Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On A. N. Sherwin-White and Vince Hart’s Abuse of Christian Apologists UPDATED: Deleted Comments on Hart's Blog

A blogger by the name of Vince Hart, who apparently has an undergraduate degree in finance and a graduate degree in law, wrote in 2007 that Christian apologists abuse Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White by taking his arguments from his book Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament out of context. I’ve actually seen Hart’s blog cited a few times by skeptics who link to Hart as if he knows what he’s talking about. However, Hart is clearly an amateur hack as a historian. He’s good at finding nit-picky errors (although sometimes not so good), but when it comes to substance he’s clearly out of his depth in this field. It was actually after someone referenced Hart’s blog to me a couple of years ago that I decided to buy a copy of Sherwin-White’s book to see for myself what was going on. It was well worth the price. While there are a few quotes of Sherwin-White’s that rightly get a lot of air time, there is a lot of highly valuable material in it that in my opinion is under-utilized. My overall conclusion, however, was that the apologists’ use of Sherwin-White is perfectly acceptable and that Hart is out to lunch. What Hart points to as a couple of minor misquotations are insubstantial and don’t affect the arguments. And as we will see shortly, Hart is guilty of a few howlers of his own.

After an introductory paragraph, Hart begins his critique with a glaring misinterpretation: “The first thing I noticed is that the book has nothing to do with the historical reliability of the resurrection accounts or any of the miracle stories.”

This is a highly misleading statement for several reasons. Sherwin-White repeatedly addresses questions pertaining to the historical and legal setting of the Gospels and Acts, and frequently through the course of his lectures refers to instances where the skeptics have completely blown it because of their assumption that the Gospels and Acts were myths and legends that developed over several generations. It’s simply incorrect (and rather ridiculous) to say that this has nothing to do with the historical reliability of the specific stories, and actually Sherwin-White himself refutes such a misunderstanding later in the book as we will see. Hart is correct only insofar as Sherwin-White does not directly render a historical verdict on the Resurrection or the miracle stories of the Gospels and Acts, but since no Christian apologist that I am aware of argues that he does, this is simply a non-issue. Hart appears to simply not understand the point, but appears to want to poison the well as early as possible by making it sound as if Christian apologists are citing Sherwin-White for purposes which in fact they are not. In fact Hart repeatedly engages in these kinds of straw men arguments. Over and over he says, “Sherwin-White never says X,” implying that Christian apologists say that Sherwin-White says X when in fact that’s not the case. Hart weaves a web of deception that is hard to untangle if you aren’t familiar with Sherwin-White’s book and with the way Christian apologists use his arguments.

Hart continues: “As the book’s title suggests, Sherwin-White’s interest was Roman law and society. The book addresses the procedural and jurisdictional issues that arise in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial and the issues of Paul's Roman citizenship that arise in the book of Acts. "[O]ne may show how the various historical and social and legal problems raised by the Gospels and Acts now look to a Roman historian. That, and only that, is the intention of these lectures." (emphasis added) (RSRLNT p. iv)””

Here Hart has taken a half a sentence, but what he’s done with it is simply bizarre. First, the sentence in its entirety reads, “But one may learn what are the questions requiring answers, and one may show how the various historical and legal and social problems raised by the Gospels and Acts now look to a Roman historian. That, and only that, is the intention of these lectures” (the quote is from p. vi, not p. iv). Hart omitted the phrase, “one may learn what are the questions requiring answers,” which in the context refers to Sherwin-White’s statement that while he is an outsider to the field of New Testament criticism, he can still bring insights as a Roman historian. In other words, his intention is to show how the field of New Testament criticism looks to a Roman historian, which he does quite forcefully. Whatever point Hart wants to make with this statement is quite obscure, except that he seems to interpret Sherwin-White as saying that he’s not going to say anything that has to do with the historicity of the events in the NT (even though "historical" was one of the categories that Sherwin-White explicitly mentioned!). But that would be a gross misinterpretation, as Sherwin-White’s implicit and explicit statements in the book itself shows. Hart seems to think that Sherwin-White is simply using the New Testament to give insight into the field of Roman law and history. In fact, the opposite is the case – Sherwin-White is bringing his considerable expertise in Roman law and history to bear on New Testament studies. Hart has gotten it completely backwards.

Hart writes, “Sherwin-White’s analysis did not require him to reach any conclusions about the historical reliability of the New Testament stories. He simply offered his opinion on the extent to which the accounts reflected what historians knew about the legal system of ancient Rome. . . . This does not mean that Sherwin-White either affirmed or denied that any particular story in the New Testament was factual or fictional. For his purposes, the question was not relevant.”

This is simply false. It is absolutely untrue to say that the question of historicity of any particular story in the NT was not relevant for his purposes. In fact the final chapter is titled “Aspects of Roman Citizenship, and the Question of Historicity.” In the second section of the chapter, which is subtitled “The Historicity of the Gospels and Graeco-Roman Historiography,” Sherwin-White writes in the first paragraph, “it is fitting for a professional Graeco-Roman historian to consider the whole topic of historicity briefly and very generally, and boldly to state a case” (186). Hart makes much ado of the phrase “briefly and very generally” in his ludicrous attack on Lee Strobel, but ignores the “boldly to state a case” bit. In fact Hart seems oblivious to what case it is that Sherwin-White is even making in the entire book, but seems confident that it has nothing to do with the historicity of any of the events in the Gospels and Acts! Hart himself is good at making mountains out of molehills while apparently missing the point of the entire thrust of Sherwin-White’s lectures. In any case, Sherwin-White makes it quite explicit when he says, “Yet however one accepts form-criticism, its principles do not inevitably contradict the notion of the basic historicity of the particular stories of which the Gospel narratives are composed, even if these were not shored up and confirmed by the external guarantee of their fabric and setting” (p. 188). So it’s astounding that Hart can say the historicity of any particular story in the NT was irrelevant for Sherwin-White’s purposes! Hart is simply applying his own skeptical slant to Sherwin-White’s words and badly misinterpreting them.

In his next paragraph, Hart moves to an argument from silence, but even that isn’t very good. He writes, “[Sherwin-White] did not assert that the gospels were historically factual. He asserted that they could be used to do history.” This is a bizarre statement. If the Gospels are not historically factual at all (which is the essence of the skeptical theories which Sherwin-White rightly castigates), then they are of no use for doing history! Hart appears to be saying that Sherwin-White didn’t say that the Gospels are 100% accurate or inerrant or anything of that nature. That’s certainly true, but again no apologist that I have ever seen says that Sherwin-White said that. Hart is again engaging in some straw man manufacturing by implying that Christian apologists are using Sherwin-White for a purpose for which in fact they are not using him. The entire comment of Hart’s is irrelevant except in advancing his anti-apologist agenda. One might well ask the question what Hart even makes of Sherwin-White’s comments. How does Hart think the Gospels should be used to do history according to Sherwin-White? What does he think we can know from them? Clearly Sherwin-White thought we could know a great deal more than the skeptics believed.

Hart’s misunderstanding continues: “Professor Sherwin-White noted that even the “most deplorable” sources can be read critically by historians to yield a “basic layer of historical truth.” While he did not claim that the Bible was a deplorable source, he repeatedly compared it to writings that are replete with problems.”

Another very misleading statement from Hart, this one more egregious. Sherwin-White compares the Gospels with a variety of Roman sources, some of which are replete with problems and some of which aren’t. He doesn’t only compare them to Herodotus, he also compares them to Thucydides, Plutarch, Arrian, Tacitus, and others. Hart is being appallingly selective in his quotes here, and appears to be simply quote-mining (a practice in which he demonstrated great proficiency during some personal interaction with yours truly as well).

More from Hart: “Sherwin-White did not “suggest the literal accuracy of ancient sources, ecclesiastical or secular;” (RSRLNT p.192-193 n.2) he merely rejected the view “that the historical Christ is unknowable.””

Again this is misleading. Sherwin-White did not “merely” reject the hyper-skeptical view - in fact he found that view to be “astonishing” (187 – Sherwin-White’s own word). But this is a great part of Sherwin-White’s point which Hart has completely missed; it’s not just that the skeptics are a little off in their thinking, they are wildly mistaken, and their conclusions simply wouldn’t fly in the field of Roman history. Hart apparently misses the point because of his own amateur understanding of the field.

Hart continues his adventure in misinterpretation with some more silliness: “However, contrary to Craig, Strobel, Geisler and a host of others, he did not attempt to calculate a rate of legendary accumulation that is universally applicable. Nor did he lay out a rule that enables an historian to identify a point before which an oral tradition can still be considered historical.”

The first sentence is strange. In fact Sherwin-White does lay out a general principle concerning what he calls the tempo of mythmaking. While Sherwin-White didn’t say the words, “universally applicable,” it’s quite clear that he believed it was applicable to the Gospels and Acts – otherwise there would have been no point in putting it in the book! But once again, Hart seems to be wanting to put words in the mouths of Christian apologists which they have never said and then indict them for it. As for “laying out a rule that enables an historian . . .,” it’s hard to understand the point of this sentence. Again, unless someone has used Sherwin-White this way, Hart appears to be simply fantasizing about arguments that have never appeared in print.

The first concrete charge against an apologist that Hart attempts after his several paragraphs of straw men and misinterpretation of Sherwin-White is with William Lane Craig. Hart writes, “The apologetic abuse of the Oxford professor starts with William Lane Craig. His claim that Sherwin-White “states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be ‘unbelievable’" is at least a gross distortion if not an outright falsehood. Sherwin-White never classified the gospels as either legend or fact. Nor did he ever use the word “unbelievable” despite Craig application of quotation marks.”

It does appear to be the case that Craig has incorrectly used quotations around the word “unbelievable.” Here is the section where Hart found this: http://www.accordingtothescriptures.org/doctrine/evidenceforjesus.html

It’s worth looking at the entire paragraph from Craig to see how significant this issue is. Craig writes,
One of the major problems with the legend hypothesis, however, which is almost never addressed by sceptical critics, is that the time between Jesus's death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for this to happen. This point has been well-explained by A. N. Sherwin-White in his book Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.{2} Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is a professional historian of times prior to and contemporaneous with Jesus. According to Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman and Greek history are usually biased and removed one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence the course of Roman and Greek history.

What Craig has written here accurately summarizes Sherwin-White’s comments on p. 186 of his book.

Craig goes on to say,
For example, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than 400 years after Alexander's death, and yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy. The fabulous legends about Alexander the Great did not develop until during the centuries after these two writers.

Here Craig is bringing in material which is not explicitly stated by Sherwin-White, but is still correct. Undoubtedly he is referring to the Alexander Romance with his last sentence.

Craig continues:
According to Sherwin-White, the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts.

This is a paraphrase of Sherwin-White, who wrote that “Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.” Here Craig’s paraphrase is spot-on.

Craig again,
When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be "unbelievable." More generations would be needed.

Hart objects to Craig’s use of “unbelievable” in quotation marks, saying that it’s “at least a gross distortion if not an outright falsehood.” I will say that the use of quotation marks is puzzling, since I can’t see where Sherwin-White uses that word in that way. However, neither do I agree with Hart that it’s a “gross distortion” of Sherwin-White’s words. In fact Sherwin-White does write, specifically with regard to the tempo of mythological development, that “the agnostic type of form-criticism would be much more credible if the compilation of the Gospels were much later in time, much more remote from the events themselves, than can be the case” (189). Sherwin-White has demonstrated in careful detail throughout his book that the Gospels can’t have been written as late as the skeptical theories required. Here he simply says outright that the agnostic form-criticism would be more credible if the Gospels were written a lot later than they actually were. But that’s his point – the theories AREN’T credible because the Gospels COULDN’T have been written as late as the skeptics said they were. So Sherwin-White is, in fact, making the point that Craig says he’s making, just in different, more restrained words. Craig might also have been thinking of Sherwin-White’s use of the word “astonishing” with regard to the skepticism of New Testament studies. Should Craig re-word his point? Yes, probably. But it’s certainly not the “gross distortion” that Hart imagines it to be. In fact Craig’s comments on the whole are exactly in line with what Sherwin-White has said quite explicitly.

Hart’s objection that “Sherwin-White never classified the gospels as either legend or fact” is positively bizarre. Since Craig doesn’t say that he classified them as either, it’s hard to know why Hart would even say this except in the cause of continuing to produce straw men. Craig simply says that according to Sherwin-White, in order for the Gospels to be legends the rate of legendary development would have had to have been unbelievable. He doesn’t say either that Sherwin-White classified them as legend or as fact.

Hart continues, “Throughout his essay, the Oxford professor acknowledged that all of his ancient sources contain both fact and fiction. What he did argue is that it would usually take more than two generations for the legendary elements to so completely displace the historical facts as to make the gospels useless to the critical historian. But he made no attempt to identify where such displacement occurred in the gospels or which parts could be considered historical.”

Sherwin-White did NOT say that it would “usually take more than two generations for the legendary elements to so completely displace the historical facts as to make the gospels useless to the critical historian.” In fact the word, “usually” doesn’t appear at all! Hart has made a botch of a paraphrase here, implying that there might be some cases where two generations would be sufficient for the kind of mythological development that the skeptics imagine occurred. Here’s the actual quote again: “Herodotus enables us to test the tempo of myth-making, and the tests suggest that even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition.” There’s no “usually” here – that word, ironically, is a product of Hart’s imagination.

Hart has again put words in the apologist’s mouth that the apologist has not argued, and then wrestled the straw man to the ground. No apologist that I have seen argues that Sherwin-White DID identify which specific part could be considered historical. Rather, apologists use Sherwin-White to demonstrate that the skeptical view that the Gospels are not historically reliable at all is wrong. The skeptical view is that myth has completely obliterated historical fact, because no matter how deeply you look into the traditions, you find the miraculous. But Hart is fallaciously intimating that because Sherwin-White hasn’t explicitly said which parts are historical, he’s affirming that we can’t know if any of it is historical. Hart is actually implicitly using Sherwin-White’s words to argue in favor of a position which Sherwin-White is explicitly disavowing. He’s reading Sherwin-White as agnostic when Sherwin-White has explicitly said the agnostic position is not credible!

Probably the clearest demonstration of Hart’s desire to smear apologists is revealed by his ridiculous attack on Lee Strobel. Here are Hart’s own words:

“Not surprisingly, Lee Strobel is even less circumspect in his use of Sherwin-White. In his summary in The Case for Christ, Strobel bloviates
What clinched it for me was the famous study by A. N. Sherwin-White, the great classical historian from Oxford University, which William Lane alluded to in our interview. Sherwin-White meticulously examined the rate at which legend accrued in the ancient world. His conclusion: not even two full generations was enough time for legend to develop and to wipe out a solid core of historical truth. (The Case for Christ p. 264)
"Contrary to Strobel’s imagination, the comments in Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament do not constitute a “study” and they do not reflect “meticulous” examination. No such study was required to support the rest of the book, which is why Sherwin-White described himself as considering the topic of historicity “briefly and very generally.” (RSRLNT p. 186) Most importantly, Strobel ignores the fact that it still takes critical historical methodology to identify that "solid core." Sherwin-White did not admit the possibility of accepting the gospels at face value.”

The first point to notice is Hart’s derogatory use of “bloviates” which adds nothing to the argument and is simply a gratuitous (and completely unjustified) ad hominem. But what is the substance of Hart’s complaint against Strobel? It’s that Strobel refers to Sherwin-White’s work as “meticulous” and a “study.” In interacting with Hart on his blog about this issue, part of the problem seems to stem from Hart interpreting Strobel’s use of the word “study” as referring particularly to the section in which Sherwin-White talks about the rate of mythmaking with reference to Herodotus. That’s far from obvious from his single use of the word, which more plausibly refers to the whole book. Hart also complains about Strobel using the word “meticulous.” This is simply a bizarre complaint, and hardly constitutes an abuse! Sherwin-White talks about the rate of mythmaking by examining the story of the murder of Hipparchus as it is related by Herodotus and later by Thucydides. Actually, it’s difficult to summarize the point without getting into details (I wonder if Hart could pull that off!), which in my mind indicates that it is fairly meticulous. Indeed, Sherwin-White was remembered as a very meticulous scholar. So this complaint of Hart’s is simply mindless. By the end of my exchange with him on his blog, he had quietly dropped the subject altogether. But it does reveal an intent to simply defame Christian apologists regardless of how much merit there is in the complaint.

In defending his absurd attack on Strobel in the comments section, Hart committed a howler and a clear distortion of his own. He wrote, “What Strobel characterizes as a “study” consists of a single anecdote from Herodotus concerning Alexander the Great. (Moreover, as Sherwin-White admits in a footnote, “There was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds with the lifetime of contemporaries, and the historical embroidery was often deliberate.”)”

Hart’s distortion is manifest with his cherry-picked quote from the footnote. He says that Sherwin-White “admits” that there was a remarkable growth of myth around Alexander the Great in his lifetime. The reader is left with the impression that Sherwin-White actually refuted the idea that myth didn’t develop as fast as what the apologists have said. But here is the full quote from Sherwin-White: “Mr. P. A. Brunt has suggested in private correspondence that a study of the Alexander sources is less encouraging for my thesis. There was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds within the lifetime of contemporaries, and the historical embroidery was often deliberate. But the hard core still remains, and an alternative but neglected source – or pair of sources – survived for the serious inquirer Arrian to utilize in the second century A.D. This seems to me encouraging rather than the reverse.” This is clear deception on Hart’s part. First, he made it appear as if this was simply an observation which Sherwin-White had made, when in fact it was made by someone else. Second, he deliberately omitted the response of Sherwin-White to this argument in which Sherwin-White not only refutes it, but actually points out that in the end it supports his point rather than hurting it! Amazingly, Hart has gone quote-mining to make it look like Sherwin-White has said the opposite of what he actually said, precisely the charge which he tries to level against Habermas (see below).

As for the howler, Hart mistakenly thought that the example Sherwin-White gave to illustrate the tempo of myth-making in Roman history was from Herodotus talking about something from the life of Alexander the Great. While this might be an understandable confusion for a layman (he obviously got confused about the footnote concerning Alexander), the problem is that Herodotus lived a century before Alexander was born! As anyone familiar with this era of history knows full well, our earliest existing biographies of Alexander come from four centuries after his death. We only know about earlier sources because parts of them are preserved in these later writings. The idea that Herodotus wrote about Alexander would be like saying that David Hume (philosopher and historian who died in 1776) wrote something about Abraham Lincoln! As I said at the beginning, Hart is clearly an amateur hack as a historian – and it shows.

But Hart’s closing statement in this paragraph is incredible. He writes, “Sherwin-White did not admit the possibility of accepting the gospels at face value.” This really IS a distortion. It seems to imply that Sherwin-White said, “we can’t accept the Gospels at face value” or some such thing. In fact he made no statement at all of the kind. When someone says “so-and-so doesn’t admit the possibility of X,” that implies that they have explicitly disavowed X. Hart is simply engaging in some creative writing at this point, inventing statements which Sherwin-White simply never made.

Hart’s complaint against Habermas appears to be more significant on the surface. Hart writes, “Another interesting misuse of Sherwin-White comes from Gary Habermas who appears to simply alter words to meet his own purposes in Why I Believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable. According to Habermas, "The sort of thoroughgoing propaganda literature that some critics believe the Gospels to be was actually nonexistent in ancient times. Sherwin-White declares, 'We are not acquainted with this type of writing in ancient historiography.'" The only problem is that Sherwin-White did not declare that! He declared that "we are not unacquainted with this type of writing."(emphasis added)(RSRLNT p. 189) The point of Sherwin-White’s essay is that historians were familiar with this type of literature and were capable of using critical analysis to get at the historical content despite the difficulties posed by the genre.”

If Habermas said this, then it is a misquote that should be corrected. But does it show that Habermas’ use of Sherwin-White is an abuse? Without the full context of the quote it’s difficult to say, but it appears that Habermas is saying that according to Sherwin-White, the skeptical view of the NT (that it is essentially entirely myth and legend) is wrong. Well, that IS what Sherwin-White is saying. The type of literature that Sherwin-White is actually referring to in the quote in question is what he calls “didactic myths.” This actually leads into Sherwin-White’s comments on the tempo of myth-making, in which he says that even two generations are too short for the mythmaking tendency to prevail over the historical core. So when Sherwin-White says, “we are not unacquainted with this type of writing,” he isn’t talking about writing that is pure myth which arose in short order – rather he’s talking about material which has been somewhat distorted but still retains the historical core. Notice that Sherwin-White is NOT saying that the Gospels have been distorted in this way (although he doesn’t deny it, either), rather his emphasis is on the fact that the historical core must still be intact, something which the skeptics deny. But that’s exactly what Christian apologists are also saying. Thus their use of Sherwin-White appears to be consistent with what he himself wrote.

So Hart has failed to demonstrate that Christian apologists have misused the work of A. N. Sherwin-White. All Hart has done is to fabricate some straw men and locate a couple of misquotes which nevertheless retain the gist of what Sherwin-White was saying. Perhaps Hart’s argument is with Sherwin-White himself. However, amateur hack that he is, it is unlikely that Hart has anything worthwhile to say about whether Sherwin-White’s observations were correct. A. N. Sherwin-White was known and respected as a careful and serious-minded scholar. His slender but detailed work on the New Testament contains rich material that confounds the ludicrous theories of skeptics as I have gone into some detail in showing elsewhere. Hart’s straw men and nitpicky attacks on Christian apologists can’t change that fact.


While attempting to engage with Hart on his blog, he reached the point where he decided to simply start deleting my comments. Was I being profane or defamatory? No, I simply demonstrated where he was clearly misreading Sherwin-White and he was unable to answer the point.

On the comments thread on his most recent blog post, Hart said, "On the question of whether Sherwin-White thinks that the New Testament accounts contain both legend and fact just as the Roman sources do, I don't think there can be any doubt; it is the nature of ancient sources."

I pointed out that in fact Sherwin-White says absolutely nothing even remotely resembling this in his book, and doesn't use the word legend this way. He certainly doesn't say that it's the nature of ancient sources that they contain both legend and fact. Assuming that legend means "a story with no historical basis whatsoever," Sherwin-White doesn't even hint that the sources he deals with contain such stories, and says nothing that implies the New Testament contains such legends. Even his use of the word "myth" is very different from the skeptical use of this word, as I pointed out in a comment which Vinny allowed to remain. But in a comment which he deleted, I reiterated the point which Vinny failed to respond to - Sherwin-White nowhere says or suggests that the New Testament contains legends, nor does he say that it's the nature of ancient sources to do so. In fact everything he says actually argues against that view. In talking about Herodotus and the possible application of form-criticism to his writings, he says, "The notions of form-criticism have not been applied systematically to Herodotus. His stories are obviously open to treatment of this kind. The investigation would cast much light on his literary method, but would not affect seriously the basic historicity of his material, which is sufficiently established." He ends this with the footnote about Alexander that I discussed above, which Vinny seriously mangled, taking part of it out of context in his misinterpretation of Sherwin-White. But since he has now taken to simply deleting comments that he can't adequately refute, further discussion of the topic is apparently not going to happen unless he comes and posts his comments here (which I will be happy to allow to remain as long as they contain no profanity, which is my criteria for removing comments).

Update 2:

When I called Hart's attention to this update, he responded by suggesting that the reason he deleted my comments was because I wasn't civil enough and was dishonest. When I challenged him to demonstrate where I had been dishonest and how it was that I wasn't civil enough for his blog when he charges Christian apologists with "abusing" Sherwin-White and "bloviating" when simply stating what Sherwin-White said, he responded by deleting the comment! I think if anyone reads my comments over at Vince's blog you will see that his charges of incivility and dishonesty are entirely without merit. He has yet to actually respond to the substance of the above charge, that he is just clearly putting words in Sherwin-White's mouth - words which toe the skeptical line even though Sherwin-White argues against the skeptical position throughout his book. So as for who is engaging in dishonesty here, I have to say that's pretty clear.


Marshall Art said...

Wow! I came here after reading comments of yours at Vinny's blog, "Do You Ever Think About Things You Do Think About?", formerly, "Do You Call This Culture?"

I am very impressed with the way you've covered all the bases on this issue. Though I'm kind of going backwards, reading his first and then yours, your comments there, together with this post here seems to be the type of seamless defense of reality that is so needed these days to battle the distortions of the unbelievers. It's what impresses me about Rob't Gagnon's interpretation of Scripture's teachings of human sexuality.

Well done indeed. I'm sure I'll be adding you to my blog roll after reviewing a few more posts of yours, if this one is typical.

John Fraser said...


Thanks for the comment. Vinny has now taken to simply deleting my comments at his blog as he has been unable to refute my arguments. I'll probably be doing an update on here to call attention to his shenanigans.

Nightvid said...

Sherwin-White is simply wrong here. Both Suetonius and Plutarch record a HUGE amount of superstition that developed in less than 30 years. We even have the Roswell alien spacecraft legend as a modern-day example when society is far less superstitious.

Sherwin-White simply gives a single anecdote of a legend whose development was incomplete. One is a very small sample size indeed. That is how he got it wrong.

John Fraser said...


I'm afraid your comment is quite irrelevant. Sherwin-White is addressing the question of whether the tempo of mythmaking would allow the historic core to be completely wiped out within the time frame that the Gospels were written, and the answer is no. Yet this is what the skeptical theories require, and NT critics insist that we can know virtually nothing about Jesus and his mission as Sherwin-White takes pains to point out.

Your references to Seutonius and Plutarch are worthless given that you have not provided any examples, and the story of Roswell is simply wide of the mark (in part because once again you have provided no details). One of the unfortunate traits of skeptics is to engage in hand waving like what you've done. The "argument" goes roughly something like this: "so what if some people say they saw Jesus? Some people say they saw UFOs and Bigfoot." I now call this the "Bigfoot defense," though it comes in different forms (very often with UFOs as you have done). But without unpacking the argument, you have done nothing except throw out red herrings.

You also seem to misunderstand Sherwin-White's argument. Have you read the book?

Nightvid said...

JF, you are avoiding my argument. I am not denying that SW claims that this tempo is too rapid for myth development, I am saying he isn't justified because he uses a sample size of one.

Insisting that I read his book while refusing to read the sources I gave you is hypocrisy and is epistemically unacceptable.

John Fraser said...


It's been awhile. What took you so long?

You said, "JF, you are avoiding my argument. I am not denying that SW claims that this tempo is too rapid for myth development, I am saying he isn't justified because he uses a sample size of one."

Did it ever occur to you that an expert on Roman history like A.N. Sherwin-White might have more info than what he shared in his lectures? He used the story of Hipparchus as an illustration. But it's hilarious that you say his argument is not valid because he gave a sample size of one when you have given a sample size of zero in response!

You said, "Insisting that I read his book while refusing to read the sources I gave you is hypocrisy and is epistemically unacceptable."

What sources? You said Suetonius, Plutarch, and something about Roswell, but you gave no specific references at all. Am I supposed to just go and read the complete extant works of these authors, along with everything written about Roswell?

Why on earth did you come back to this post after eight months just to engage in this kind of hand waving? It really puzzles me.

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My ministry in Hungary involved teaching theology and training Hungarian church planters. I have a great interest in apologetics as well as missions.