Friday, January 2, 2015

Why Am I So Angry At Michael Paulkovich?

That's what some people want to know. I'll keep trying to explain. (Some people have urged me to just let it all go. Hahaha. Haha. Hahahaha. No, I won't be doing that.)

I suppose it can't hurt to keep repeating, near the beginning of each of these rants, what many people seem to keep overlooking: not only am I an atheist, I'm far from certain that Jesus ever existed. I'm not criticizing Paulkovich for saying that Jesus never existed, I'm criticizing him for not knowing his ass from a hole in the ground about ancient Judea and Galilee and the question of Jesus' historicity, while trying to pass himself off as some sort of expert.

Actually, I'm angrier at the people who publish Free Inquiry than I am at Paullkovich. Someone described Paulkovich's article about "the 126 silent historians" as a striking example of sloppy thinking and sloppy research. But I don't think that what Paulkovich did here was research at all. Him posing as a researcher, and Free Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism continuing to stand behind him, is an insult to all actual researchers in ancient Greek and Latin, including the sloppy amateur ones like me. Sloppy research would have been if he had actually studied the writing of some ancient writers, and then drawn some dubious conclusions from that study. Mis-translated a few Greek and Latin words, not understood some obvious issues of context, things like that. In the case of 40-some of his 126, it's obvious that he didn't study their writing because there is no writing left to be studied. If he had actually read the Latin version of the story of Jason and the Argonauts, or another writer's book on architecture, or the Satyricon, the only surviving work of Petronius -- the same Satyricon upon which Fellini based his movie of the same name -- or the half-dozen verses of love poetry which are all that remain of the work of another writer on his list of 126, etc, etc, he would have known that there was no reason to expect to find Jesus mentioned in those works, and furthermore, he would've realized that anyone who was actually familiar with those writers would know that it was ridiculous to look for mentions of Jesus in their work. He would've realized that he'd be exposing himself as a charlatan posing as someone who'd done some research.

If he had taken the trouble to actually do some research into the extent of all the surviving work of ancient Greek and Latin authors, he would've realized that there are barely 126 historians among them, let alone 126 who mentioned Judea or Galilee, let alone 126 who would've mentioned a wandering preacher with all of 12 followers, who was one of the many people Pontius Pilate had crucified. He would've learned that apart from the Bible and some of the Old and New Testament Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls and Josephus, there's very little surviving ancient writing of any kind from that time and place, and that it's very big news among actual contemporary historians whenever any little scrap of more is found.

I'd really like to know just exactly how Paulkovich came up with that list, and where he got the notion that it was a list of 126 HISTORIANS. I'm picturing him gathering information from sources like jesusneverexisted dot com and the blogs and books of some of the wackier mythicists. There's simply no way he could've come near anything resembling a reliable reference work, or conferred with anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Roman Empire and its literature, and still come up with that list. Perhaps he thinks that most people familiar with ancient Greek or Latin are a part of the Plot. I'm just speculating here. It's actually very difficult for me to imagine just how that list of 126 names came to be, and just exactly how Paulkovich came to believe that historical writing from all 126 of them had survived.

And yes, there is also the little detail that it is extremely well-known, even among mythicists, that 4 of the people on his list, Josphus, Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger, actually do mention Jesus and/or Christians.

And that the first 3 of those 4 actually are historians, quite unlike most of the 126, showing that the rate of "silence" of ancient historians about Jesus is actually rather low.

And yes, there is also the little detail about how Paulkovich bases his assumptions about what would have had to have been written about Jesus if he'd existed, on the Bible's claims about Jesus. That is to say, if Jesus had really healed all of those people and risen from the dead and so forth, more people would've noticed. Either Paulkovich is being inconsistent here in looking for evidence of a supernatural Jesus, or I have been wrong in assuming that Paulkovich is an atheist who doesn't believe in the supernatural. Whatever. At this point of silliness I don't much care anymore. But to some people, this assumed inconsistency apparently is a big deal.

And of course all of this still leaves the question untouched of how those responsible for the publication of Free Inquiry managed to miss all of this.

Well, at least Paulkovich didn't claim that there were newspapers in ancient Jerusalem, and that big stacks of them are still lying around, along with detailed records of every criminal case which came before Pilate -- all very suspiciously free of any mention of Jesus. There actually are some people, aside from the religious believers in Jesus' miracles and resurrection, who are running around making claims about Jesus and the historical record which are even more ridiculous than Paulkovich's. (Unless I'm giving him too much credit, and he actually does make such claims in his book. I haven't read his book.)

There's nothing particularly unusual about Paulkovich. There are very many people talking and writing about the historicity or lack of historicity of Jesus without having more of a clue on the subject than he does. It's mysterious to me that so much energy is expended flapping their gums about it, and such a tiny fraction of that much energy learning about what they're constantly yapping about. It's mysterious, and it makes me angry. And it makes me that much more angry when we're talking about people who claim to value rationality and free inquiry and knowledge and solid research so highly.

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