Saturday, May 2, 2009

Humphreys vs. Holding on the radio (UK)

In this episode of Unbelievable, James Patrick "JP" Holding ( debates Ken Humphreys ( on the question of the historical Jesus. I should wrn you that they don't really get into anything like substantive debate until after 25-30 minutes have gone by.

On his website, Holding defends extravagant miraculous and theological claims about what Jesus actually said and did in his life on Earth, but in the course of framing of this particular debate he manages to stake out a far more defensible position, essentially that Jesus of Nazareth was an actual rabbi who was alive during the early first century and had disciples and a wider following. Humphreys, by contrast, actually tries to defend the same position that he advocates on his website, namely, that Jesus was never an actual historical figure but merely and emergent mythic figure like William Tell or King Arthur.

Since Holding abandons his own actual position and defends the moderate middle ground of agnostic leaning scholars such as Bart Ehrman, he manages to come off as the seemingly more reasonable interlocutor in this discussion, but not without some cost to his reputation as a forthright and stalwart defender of the whole gospel.

Humphreys comes off as well-informed and passionate, thought (alas) a bit more of the latter than the former. He tries to show that the gospels and other source materials are "late and fake" but does not make nearly so strong a case as someone like Richard Carrier or Earl Doherty could have done. He should have focused more on the appearances of more and more biographical details of Jesus later and later in the game.

The only particular point that I'd like raise about this debate is that Holding is treading on very dangerous apologetical ground when he brings up the "edifying fiction" defense around 39:30 or so, because it plays right into the myther hypothesis that all of the gospels were also created in precisely the same way, and that they would be shelved under devotional fiction to this day if only we knew all the details of their origins.