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Turkel and the Trilemma

Turkel and the Trilemma

by Brian Holtz

[Editor’s note: This essay summarizes a long debate between these two authors, which is available at “Turkel Rebutted on Trilemma.” Robert Turkel does not include this link in either of his essays where he quotes Holtz’s edited responses. This is Turkel’s modus operandi: he avoids linking to or even naming the essays he rebuts, and usually avoids so much as naming the author he is attacking. He also routinely changes his essays after being refuted, yet rarely announces the changes or concessions in any way, and he also employs childish insults and other rudeness. Because this unethical and shameful behavior of Turkel’s has truly run amok for too long, the Secular Web has seen fit to publish this essay to document his behavior, as well as to point readers to some very good material rebutting the Trilemma argument. Turkel’s essays on the Trilemma argument include “On the Trail of the Trilemma” and “The Trilemma on Trial.” The Secular Web has several rebuttals to this argument in our Modern Library.]

In our debate over the Trilemma (that Jesus was liar, lunatic, or lord), Robert Turkel’s latest response to me contained no less than 137 polemical blunders, each categorized and separately identified below. On substance, Turkel’s version of the Trilemma argument, like so many others, ignores a fourth possibility: that Jesus was a faith-healer and apocalyptic preacher whose deluded belief in his importance was strengthened in the months leading up to his anticipated martyrdom, and then was misinterpreted and exaggerated afterwards.

This article has the following sections:

Argument Summary

The burden of the Trilemma is to show that Jesus could not have been a lunatic or liar. The Trilemma fails if Jesus merely could have been a lunatic (e.g. delusional). I explained this point to Turkel no less than eight times, but he still fails to comprehend it. Turkel’s primary article on the Trilemma still contains no mention at all of schizophrenia or paraphrenia, and cannot be considered a serious attempt to address whether Jesus exhibited the symptomology of delusional schizophrenia. Turkel has been unable to refute my claim that the evidence about Jesus is not inconsistent with the diagnostic criteria for delusional schizophrenia: grandiose identity, role, and ability.

Other problems: Turkel has no answer for my question of which explanation is more parsimonious: divine incarnation or mental illness? Turkel dares not compare the parsimoniousness of our competing theses, and instead claims that doing so is to “assume” (instead of conclude) naturalism. Turkel also has not refuted my argument that Jesus’ faith healings, danger avoidance, ambiguous claims, and failed ministry are all consistent with him being Lunatic (i.e. delusional) instead of Lord. In line with this, Turkel has not refuted my argument that the gospels and associated evidence would have to be quite different in several specific ways to support a convincing case that Jesus was probably divine. In contrast, does Turkel dare declare how different the evidence would have to be to convince him that it was even possible that Jesus was nondivine and delusional?

Debate Background & Archives

James Patrick Holding (aka J.P. Holding) is the pseudonym of one Robert Turkel, who maintains a Christian apologetics web “ministry” called Tektonics. On his web site he issues to skeptics his “chicken challenge”:

The challenge is simple: Pick up any essay of mine and refute it. [.. I]f I hear nothing, I'll guess I'll just have to assume that no one can respond to my material.

I have systematically and comprehensively refuted the “material” in his essay about the Trilemma (i.e. that Jesus was liar, lunatic, or lord). Turkel has been responding selectively to my criticisms, but is apparently too “chicken” to let his readers see my unedited arguments or even to name me. (Note: in this article’s excerpts from previous postings, I replace all instances of his pseudonym with his real name.) I by contrast have no fear of anyone reading him in all his tedious and ineffectual detail. I am continuing to post our entire debate to Usenet, and it is available through Google Groups from the introductory link above. My systematic refutation of his arguments will be visible to anyone who searches on “Holding” or “Turkel” or “Tektonics” for as long as there is archiving on the Internet (and its successors)–i.e. long after Christianity has gone the way of Mithraism and Zoroastrianism.

State of the Debate

With his latest response, Turkel includes some childish digs at the leisure with which I’m debating him:

Oh, boy, he's at it again! 馃檪 Our critic on the Trilemma returns after almost 3 months of running around in the woods. Looks like he hit some trees face-first on the way! [..] But I guess we'll see him again in a few months when he manages to regroup from the effort.

I debate in order to examine the relative merit of my arguments and the best possible counterarguments to them. When Turkel consistently fails to offer counter arguments, or argues against positions that are not mine, then this debate becomes just a tedious exercise in documenting his instances of retreat, evasion, and misrepresentation. Turkel can rest assured that as a background task I will relentlessly continue to demolish his responses to me point by point, sentence by sentence, and clause by clause. As the quality of his arguments reaches new lows (see below) and the lopsidedness of this contest grows, I will likely choose to stretch out my response interval, for the simple reason that my life is not to be wasted on the obvious delusions of a long-dead carpenter. (Sadly, the same cannot be said of Turkel.)

Turkel is losing this debate so badly that his defeat is amusing to quantify. In his latest response alone Turkel fails 79 times to answer, acknowledge, or correctly represent my arguments. On six occasions his reasoning is so faulty as to constitute textbook examples of fallacies, and in six other instances he exhibits a misunderstanding of the elementary logic of his own Trilemma argument. In 19 instances he edited his essay to hide from his readers his defeat on particular points, and six other times he changed the subject to deflect attention from a defeat. Seven separate times he adopts the pretense that forcing a successful defense of my thesis is somehow a victory for him. Finally, on 14 occasions he indulges in insubstantial argument by way of generalization, hollow bluster, ad hominem, and slurs (such as calling me ‘bigoted’ for disagreeing with people of other cultures).

Here are the descriptions, text search markers, and totals for the aforementioned categories of his polemical stumbles. Each particular instance is placed in only one category, and so the numbers sum to a grand total of 137 blunders. (We don’t even count his many misspellings, and simply note them in situ with “[sic]”.) To find each instance below, copy the whole word and symbol string in each case into the Find on Page field of your browser.

Dares not answer a point I’ve madedares[#]9
Dares not even let his readers see a point I’ve madesee[#]37
Misrepresents my position[#misrep]33
Commits a blatant fallacyfallacy[#]6
Misunderstands the validity criteria of the TrilemmaTrilemma[#]6
Uses editing to hide his defeat from his readers[#lose]19
Changes the subject to obfuscate his defeat[#retreat]6
Claims successful defense of my thesis is a victory for him[#!win]7
Argues by: bluster, ad hominem, slur, generalization[#childish]14

Note that Turkel could conceivably commit all these transgressions and still be winning on substance, but any reading of my unedited arguments shows that he is losing badly on that score as well. Turkel nevertheless concludes his response by saying:

...the bottom line as usual: Our critic is manifestly out of his league...

Turkel may have wasted more of his life on biblical trivia than I have, but as a polemicist he is ‘manifestly’ not equipped to deal with a humble atheist armed just with clear reason and the relevant fundamental historical facts. His inadequacy is probably related to his apparent lack of experience debating in open fora like Usenet, where his current opponent has been debating politics and religion since 1988. If Turkel too had submitted and defended over 1500 Usenet postings, he might have learned to avoid the sort of missteps that we herein document him making 137 times. Instead, Turkel seems to restrict his debating to the safe and cozy confines of his little web site, where he can evade and misrepresent his opponents’ arguments with impunity. But Turkel’s inability as a polemicist is not to be blamed for him losing this debate on substance, since he dealt himself a losing hand in the first place. Rather, it is his propensity for blunders like these 137 that indicates which of us here is “manifestly out of his league.”

When at the start of this debate I informed Turkel that I would be rebutting his Trilemma article, he wrote me:

If you insist on embarrassing yourself with your ignorance...I shall be only too happy to oblige.

It quite obviously has turned out instead that Turkel is the one who should be embarrassed. My advice to him for minimizing that embarrassment is to do one of the following:

(1) Quit the debate; continue to pretend that my only responses have been what your editing claims them to be; continue to hope that your readers cannot find the full unedited text of my responses; save yourself the effort of finding new ways to misrepresent my positions; and deny me the satisfaction of annihilating any more of your attempted counter arguments.

(2) Reply substantively to each of my arguments and in particular to each of the 79 cases where you fail to correctly represent, substantively answer, or even admit the existence of my arguments; link to my responses so I can no longer say you hide your defeats from your readers; and refrain from ersatz arguments (such as those based on bluster, generalization, ad hominem, or slurs) that are so easy for me to diagnose as insubstantial.

Unfortunately for him, Turkel probably has too much pride to do (1), and too little self-discipline to do (2). Instead, he will probably do (3):

(3) Continue to keep your readers from seeing the full unedited text of my responses; continue failing to correctly represent, substantively answer, or even admit the existence of so many of my arguments; and continue to make arguments based on bluster, generalization, ad hominem, or slurs.

But enough debate about the debaters. Let us turn now to the substance of the debate, pausing at each instance of Turkel’s generalizations and bluster merely long enough to clinically tabulate them, rather than return them in kind.

Jesus’ Psychology

T: [the Christ complex] is not in the APA's DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)

The issue was never whether it appeared in any diagnostic manual (no one expects a separate entry for people who think they are Napoleon either). The issue is: what is the relevant psychological diagnosis for the delusional (i.e. non-liar, non-lord) horn of the Trilemma? Turkel dares[#] not answer my point that “identification with divinity” is not a differential diagnosis against schizophrenia.

T: the issue is whether indeed there are people who think they are Christ or God, and how serious this delusion is, compared to, say, someone who thinks they are merely a great football player [..] The level of delusion and dissonance required is much greater for one with a divinity complex than it is for one who has lesser-scale delusions

Here Turkel just repeats his assertion about the specialness of divinity claims and dares[#] not address my charge that he “simply ignores (but later quotes!) my source article listing claims ‘that they were God or Jesus Christ’ (i.e. divine) as one of the relevant major forms of delusional grandiosity.”

H: I challenge [Turkel] to cite any authority saying schizophrenia is more likely to have sudden onset than to develop over time.

T: Whose job is this to prove? Our critic bears the burden of proof in this regard, as it is he who makes the claim that Jesus fits the mold

Turkel yet again misunderstands the conditions for the logical validity of the Trilemma[#] argument. The Trilemma argument is only valid if Turkel can positively demonstrate that Jesus could not have been delusional. In the absence of such a demonstration, the Trilemma argument fails to prove its thesis, and Jesus’ divinity remains at best an open question.

T: but even if he proves that gradual onset is possible in suhc [sic] a context

“Even if”? Turkel [#lose] does not dare let his readers see that I in fact 1) already quoted a reference work as saying that the schizophrenic “manifests an insidious and gradual reduction in his external relations and interests”, and 2) already nailed him for ignoring this citation.

T: it proves nothing without a begged question assumed and without corollary data and an explained means of falsification.

Having been defeated in his attempted denial that there is “evidence of this or any condition as something that slowly evolves,” Turkel here retreats [#retreat] to a denial that Jesus’ delusion was gradual. While any one Gospel would naturally try to interpret Jesus as being consistent throughout his ministry, a few hints remain that point to an evolving delusion.

1. Jesus seems (at least initially) to have been a disciple of John the Baptist. A Jesus always convinced of his divinity would have been less likely to ever be anyone’s disciple.

2. Jesus seems to have been estranged from his family. Such estrangement could have been produced by his growing delusions of divinity, and would have been unlikely if he always had true knowledge of his own divinity.

3. Jesus was at times secretive about his special nature. Such secrecy would be consistent with Jesus initially not being convinced of his divinity.

But Turkel continues:

T: about finding such conditions in Jesus, our critic accuses me of not quoting material in context,

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see [#lose] that I did not merely “accuse” him of quoting material out of context, but in fact actually demonstrated it.

T: but still provides no examples of such behavior in Jesus one way or the other

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see[#] that I in fact pointed out that the “diagnostic criteria match so well the reported behaviors of Jesus” and that he “does not try to dispute the diagnostic match” with those criteria–grandiose identity, role, and ability. Does Turkel deny that the gospels indicate Jesus had a high opinion of his identity, role, and ability? Of course not. He would merely claim that Jesus’ high opinion was justified. Claiming that Jesus was delusional in order to disprove the possibility of delusion is begging the question. By contrast, my claim is that Jesus’ behavior does not completely rule out either delusionality or divinity, and that delusionality is more consistent with the evidence and is a more parsimonious explanation than divinity.

T: and does not show how the alleged misquoting in any way muddles his argument.

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see [#lose] that my demonstration of misquoting showed that Turkel disputed a strawman diagnostic match with criteria that applied not to Jesus’ altruistic grandiosity but to another (narcissistic) form of grandiosity.

T: Our critic [says] that his actual stance is that "the gospels are probably the result of not necessarily fabrication, but of some combination of misinterpretation, exaggeration, rationalization, delusion, and deception"

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see [#lose] that this is not merely my “actual” stance but my original stance, repeated as an exact quotation.

T: a combo claim that sounds effective when hurled in elephantine form

The truth by its very nature always “sounds effective,” even in spite of Turkel’s favorite epithet “elephantine.”

T: but indicates an unwillingness and an inability to break down the Gospel records into each of these categories

On the contrary, I have identified candidate instances of each phenomenon:

  • misinterpretation: Jesus’ divinity claims; reanimation miracles
  • exaggeration: Jesus’ water-walking
  • rationalization: Jesus’ danger avoidance as knowledge that it wasn’t his time
  • delusion: Jesus’ self-conception
  • deception: the empty tomb
  • fabrication: the Easter zombies

It is of course impossible to say precisely what combination explains each element of the Gospel stories, but that in no way makes the composite explanation implausible.

T: and a mere attempt to sound as though some authoritative and reasonable thesis is being presented, when in fact, it is no more than several begged questions rather than just one.

Now that Turkel has accidentally admitted that my naturalistic explanation “sounds effective” and “authoritative and reasonable,” it’s clear that he simply has not met his Trilemma burden of showing that no such explanation is even possible. His charge of “several begged questions” is an unsubstantiated throw-away generalization.

T: In the latest report, our critic ignores the link [referring to John and Mark's respective Christologies]

Nothing in the linked article refutes (or even addresses!) my point that in the early Gospel of Mark Jesus is reluctant to let his special nature be known.

T: makes hash of the idea that I supposedly allowed that Jesus did not spread around his identity, even as it was spread around anyway

Turkel here does not dare deny or even quote my point, so it suffices merely to repeat it: he earlier agreed with me that Jesus in Mark “is reluctant for his special nature to be known” when he went on to say [#lose] “in spite of this, the special nature did get known.”

T: [our critic] now merely declares [Turkel's disputing of Q/Marcan priority] to be a "dead meme" and therefore not open to discussion, because it is held by authoritative sources like Encyclopedias!

Turkel here does not dare answer or even let his readers see[#] my challenge asking “why it’s considered dead by reference works like the Britannica and Columbia encyclopedias, which are notoriously hesitant to take sides in any live controversy.” Indeed, Turkel’s own words elsewhere on his website undermine his position:

T: [to disagree with the scholarly consensus] requires a certain degree of ego anyway. One must assume themselves to be wiser, smarter, more informed, than literally hundreds of trained historians and other specialists who have reached the opposite conclusion. One must assume to have understood things clearly that few others have clearly understood; one must seek conspiracy under every bush, an enemy behind every piece of furniture, and maintain that others who disagree with you are simply too blind, biased, or ignorant to appreciate your rampant genius.

T: Of course, it is quite possible that all of the professional historians (even those with no religious interest!) are biased or wrong, while proponents of the [contrarian thesis] are the objective ones. And yes, a consensus does not equate with evidence. But a consensus on any historical question is usually based on evidence which is analyzed by those who are recognized as authoritative in their field, and therefore may be taken at their word.

Will Turkel dare let his readers see the above unedited (or at all)?

H: Several examples are in section 1.2.2. (Philosophy / Metaphysics / Theology) of my book

T: Our critic now adds some arguments from his own book (quoting himself as an authority in essence!)

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see [#misrep] my actual words (restored above). Turkel himself may think that anyone who writes a “book” should automatically be considered “an authority,” but he’s quite mistaken if he believes I think the same way.

H: In order of writing, the gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrected appearances become increasingly elaborate. Original Mark claims an empty tomb but describes no appearances. Matthew says simply that the two Marys and later the Eleven "saw him" but "some were dubious." The Longer Ending of Mark says Jesus appeared "in a different form" to two disciples, and simply "appeared" to the Eleven. Luke elaborates on both of these episodes, building the latter into an account that approaches the full Doubting Thomas story finally told in John.

T: The progression here is only in our critic's imagination. Mark is exempt from such analysis [..] as it is far from clear that the ending of Mark was the original as it now stands, and the longer ending is too late to be given consideration--that our critic sees fit to include it shows a remarkable lack of scholarly discipline.

It’s not clear whether Turkel understands that Original Mark ends with 16:8, and that 16:9-20 is indeed the later “Longer Ending” that I referred to. His confusion allows him to simply ignore my point that the earliest copies of the earliest gospel (Mark) described no resurrection appearances.

T: Matt. 28:17 does not say that some 'didn't believe'; it said that some 'doubted'--doubted what?

The obvious answer is that the ones who didn’t pay him homage were dubious that it was indeed Jesus: “And when they saw him, they paid him homage; but some doubted.”

T: the verb used here points not to belief or uncertainty, but to hesitation and indecision. They did not doubt the presence or veracity of the resurrected Jesus; they wondered [..] what was to be done next...

Turkel has no basis for a definitive conclusion that Jesus’ resurrection isn’t here being described as having been doubted.[1] More to the point, Turkel dares[#] not even address the fact that Matthew’s appearances only to the two Marys and the Eleven are indisputably less elaborate than those in the later Luke and John.

T: In terms of Luke and John, by "elaboration" our critic presumably means, more details are given. That may be so

Thus in the space of half a paragraph, Turkel goes from claiming that the increasing elaboration “is only in our critic’s imagination” to admitting outright that the later the gospel, the “more details are given” about the appearances. Thus Turkel commits the fallacy[#] of contradiction.

T: but none of the details adds any degree of elabortion [sic] to the actual event of the resurrection.

Turkel here simply ignores that we are discussing my claim of a “discernible progression” in the “resurrection appearances” (as opposed to the resurrection itself), and that he said my claim was “entirely without basis.” The basis having been demonstrated and conceded, Turkel desperately tries to change the subject [#retreat].

T: Luke and John add nothing that Matthew would not, in actually claiming a resurrection, already indicate via the conceptual template of a resurrection

It’s ludicrous to imply that any meager account of an empty tomb or a vague and selective appearance would have the same evidentiary value as a detailed descriptions of e.g. a skeptical inspection of Jesus’ wounds.

T: Does he think Luke elaborated on Matthew directly, and John on Luke? If he thinks there is a progression, then that implies that one built on the other knowingly.

No, it doesn’t. A “progression” can mean simply any increase.

T: The "progression" thesis is quite imagimative [sic], but completely devoid of substance.

Turkel here contradicts himself (fallacy[#]), as he just admitted that the later the gospel, the “more details are given” about the appearances. Progression (i.e. increase) in elaboration, of course, is precisely what one would expect if the gospels were a result of misinterpretation, exaggeration, rationalization, delusion, deception, and mythologizing.

T: if this progression theory has any validity, one must date 1 Cor. 15, whose quantity-substance is far more significant than the Gospel records, later than the Gospels!

As Turkel well knows, and as my book notes, the first written account (1 Cor 15) of the appearances lumps them together with post-ascension manifestations to Paul in a discussion of spiritual resurrection, making them dubious as accounts of bodily resurrection.

H: In the earliest gospel (Mark), Jesus [..] is reluctant for his special nature to be known, and (as he does in Matthew) despairs on the cross. (By contrast, in the later Luke and John, Jesus asserts he is Christ, and confidently assures a co-crucified criminal of their impending ascension.)

T: As noted above, and still again, our critic ignores the very definitive claims to divinity listed in Mark

I had answered every divinity claim that Turkel has cited..

T: And an "impending ascension" (which is not an accurate descriptor anyway) is no divine claim!

I never said Jesus’ confidence in his immanent salvation was a “divine claim”; I simply said that it contrasted with his despair on the cross noted in the two earliest gospels. Turkel here dares[#] not dispute that the confident-on-the-cross Jesus in the later Luke and John contrasts with the despairing Jesus in the earlier Mark and Matthew.

T: Anyone familiar with the social background data, with the contextual meanings of the words used by Jesus of himself, sees no such progression within the Gospels

There is an obvious and undeniable progression from the early gospels to the later gospels in

  • the elaborateness of the resurrection appearances
  • the impressiveness of the healing miracles (Lazarus; the congenitally blind man)
  • Jesus’ confidence on the cross, and
  • Jesus’ divinity claims

T: we want some proof of "delusions of persecution" [..] and "unrealistic, illogical thinking" as well as hallucinations.

H: I'm not saying that some separate evidence for Jesus' being unrealistic and hallucinatory therefore establishes him as a schizophrenic.

T: Well, if not, then why quote the article on this point, or why not quote it and admit that that phrase is not being taken into consideration?

Turkel is himself delusional [#misrep] about what I “admit.” He does not dare let his readers see[#] my argument:

H: Turkel seems to think we are looking for gospel admissions that Jesus hallucinated or was deluded. We are instead looking for gospel reports that are consistent with Jesus hallucinating or being deluded. Hallucinations: Jesus hears or sees God, Satan, demons, and angels. Delusions: Jesus believes he is sent by God, believes he has apocalyptic foreknowledge, etc.

Thus, I do not claim that the Gospels say “Jesus delusionally / unrealistically / illogically believed X” or “Jesus hallucinated Y.” Rather, I claim that the Gospels make statements about what Jesus believed and perceived that are quite consistent with him being unrealistic, illogical, hallucinatory, and indeed resolutely determined to be persecuted.

T: What is happening here is that our critic simply threw up a quote from the encyclopedia uncritically--as he has done with numerous sources--hoping to land one blow, any blow, with his skeptical cohorts--and now has to backpedal furiously in order to avoid defending himself.

I quote this insubstantial remark from Turkel merely to illustrate yet again his amusing habit [#!win] of calling it “backpedaling” when I simply correct him on his blatant misreading of my position.

T: Indeed, this is shown in that here, for the first time, our critic shows his hand, which we have anticipated:

H: I'm saying that if we reserve judgment about the truth of the reports about Jesus, and instead can show that they are consistent with paranoid schizophrenia, then it becomes a simple matter of asking which explanation is more parsimonious: divine incarnation or mental illness? Since mental illness is obviously more parsimonious than divine incarnation, Turkel's burden is to show that the reports about Jesus are INCONSISTENT with paranoid schizophrenia.

Turkel is simply obtuse to claim [#misrep] that this is “the first time” that I have pointed out that his burden is to show that the reports about Jesus are inconsistent with delusion. I said in my previous response that

H: the mere existence of this fourth alternative [deluded faith-healer] doesn't in itself prove that this alternative is true. But its unrebutted existence DOES invalidate the trilemma argument, whose validity depends on there being no non-lord options besides liar and lunatic. It may in fact be possible to prove Jesus' lordship through other more-direct arguments, but the Trilemma itself fails to do so if the fourth option is not actually SHOWN to be false.

It’s not surprising that Turkel thinks I haven’t made this point before, since he did not dare answer (or even let his readers see[#]) any of the above text when it appeared in EACH of my two previous responses. Nor does Turkel dare let his readers see[#] my point that he “does not meet his burden simply by asserting that the reports about Jesus are true!”

T: the entire premise from our critic rests upon the begged question (turned via positive spin-doctoring into a matter of a "more parsimonious explanation!") that no such thing as a divine incarnation is possible.

Utterly false [#misrep]. Divine incarnation is eminently possible, and in a previous response I even schooled Turkel on the evidence that would be required to justify belief in it. Turkel seemingly realizes that the issue of parsimony is devastating to his position, and so he instead argues against the strawman position that divine incarnation is impossible. I hold no such position.

By contrast, we have no reason to think that Turkel admits that it was even remotely possible that Jesus was delusional. I’ve already said how different the Gospels and associated evidence would have to be to convince me that Jesus was divine. Does Turkel dare declare how different the evidence would have to be to convince him that Jesus was instead delusional?

T: To that end, in the service of a "more parsimonious explanation," do we see our critic spinning out every event possible into a sign of mental illness, while dispensing with contrary or insufficient indications of data by any illicit means possible. We shall see more of this as we proceed.

Turkel dares[#] not answer my question of which explanation is more parsimonious: divine incarnation or mental illness? Instead, he complains that I cite all the evidence that is consistent with mental illness. Is he saying I should omit some of the evidence that supports my thesis? He also complains that I “illicit[ly] dispense” with the evidence for his contrary thesis. If he has some evidence for his thesis that I have not addressed fairly, he should cite it. If instead he is complaining that I am not arguing his thesis for him, he should stop whining and do his own work.

T: we do have places where the voice of God is heard, but there, others hear the voice too. Presumably skeptics would posit the usual convenient "group hallucination" theory for that one. Our critcic [sic] has no answer for that

I indeed offer no answer to a counter argument against an argument that I’ve never made. I’m not familiar with any “group hallucination” theory, but a more plausible theory is misinterpretation, exaggeration, and mythologizing.

T: but does as we expected beg the question by assuming that Jesus' encounter with Satan and apocalyptic fervor are the result of delusion. The scent of begged question is overwhelming!

I quote this sputtering [#childish] outburst in full because it is precisely the place where Turkel should instead have made an argument that an actual encounter with Satan is a more parsimonious explanation for the available evidence than my thesis of delusion. Turkel of course dares make no such argument, but instead misleadingly claims [#misrep] that I “assume” delusion. I do no such thing. Rather, I “assume” that the most parsimonious explanation for the available evidence should be taken as the correct explanation. And I conclude–rather than “assume”–that the most parsimonious explanation is delusion.

T: Critics sometimes appeal to the cleansing of the Temple; if this prophetic demonstration reflects mental disorder of this sort, then protestors [sic] in front of nuclear power plants and members of PETA also need help

H: This analogy fails utterly, as such protests do not get the protester killed.

T: Whether they get someone killed is beside the point

No, the point is precisely that there is a huge difference between someone who engages in run-of-the-mill civic protest and someone who consciously pursues a course of religious martyrdom.

T: though in that case, one may ask about the sanity of American Revolutionary soldiers, for example, who fought for their freedom knowing there was an excellent chance they would be killed.

The Continental Army numbered about 230,000 men, but only 25,000 of them died. Turkel instead should compare Jesus to Kamikazes, whose clear-headedness is indeed open to question. But even so, there is still a big difference between dying for one’s nation and dying for one’s belief in one’s own divinity.

T: At the same time, our critic assumes upon the ancients certain values and judgments about the value and purpose of life that are held only by moderns; the ancients had no qualms about dying sacrificially for a cause they believed in

Modern people are also often willing to risk their lives for their causes, and indeed in the twentieth century multitudes of people died doing so. Turkel’s vague talk about values serves only to obfuscate the original point here: that Jesus’ behavior is consistent with “distress and agitation, and irrational behavior appear[ing] as delusions become[s] more vivid and judgment lessens.”

H: "Impairment: Intellectual functioning is unimpaired. Daily living, occupational activity, social functioning, and quality of marriage are likely to deteriorate during exacerbations." Jesus abandoned his profession of carpentry for a life of wandering asceticism. His ministry caused strained relations with his family that even the gospels felt obliged to report.

T: the "strain" was clearly only from the family's side, not from Jesus'.

Turkel here dares[#] not deny that Jesus’ ministry was the cause of his strained relations with his family, and does not substantiate this assertion that the strain was “clearly” one-sided.

T: As for abandoning a profession, does this mean we are mentally ill when we change careers or lifestyle?

It easily might, if we choose itinerant asceticism over a stable profession because of the voices we hear in our heads.

T: Is asceticism a sign of mental illness?

It easily might be, if one chooses it because of the voices one hears in one’s head.

T: none of this even so reflects a "deterioration" in the named areas, except by virtue of a modernistic value judgment that assumes that living in a nice house is a sure sign of mental health order.

Turkel here fabricates an obvious strawman [#misrep].

T: One would also ask for detailed qualification proving that a move from carpenter to travelling [sic] teacher is somehow "deterioration," other than by making bigoted and modernistic value judgments.

Jesus’ own family and peers evidently considered it a deterioration. Turkel is quite mistaken if he thinks that a child’s choice of poverty and childlessness is distressful only to “bigoted and modernistic” parents. Turkel once again calls me a name (“bigoted”, [#childish]) for daring to disagree with anyone from ancient times.

T: Do those who leave a comfortable home and join the Peace Corps to dig wells in Africa count as mentally ill?

If they do it because of what we can explain as auditory and visual hallucinations, and if it is a path to martyrdom rather than a two-year adventure, then yes.

H: [Qumranites and by John the Baptist were] cave-hiding fanatics and a similarly delusional preacher.

T: It is telling that our critic is forced to resort to bigoted ad hominem here

“Fanatic” is simply an accurate description of the Qumranites, who were “an extremist offshoot of the Jewish apocalyptic movement” [http://mosaic.lk.net/g-qumran.html]. “Delusional” is simply a plausible explanation for the Baptist’s beliefs. Turkel once again calls me a name (“bigoted”, [#childish]) for daring to disagree with anyone from ancient times.

T: extending the diagnosis of mental illness to as many as is needed to make his case!

No, only to apocalyptic religious extremists.

T: Are, for example, ascetic Buddhist monks in their mountain temples "hiding fanatics"?

Yes, if they believe in an imminent apocalypse and that the majority of their fellow religionists are heretical.

T: Is it possible at all to live a life of religious or other asceticism and not be declared mentally deluded? Evidently not!

Another Turkel strawman [#misrep]. One can be wrong without being deluded, and there are of course degrees of delusionality–despite Turkel’s attempts to pretend otherwise.

T: Our critic in response offers yet more bigoted and begged questions, pointing to the ascetic habits of Jesus:

Turkel again uses his favorite [#childish] slur “bigot”.

H: the gospels report that Jesus was sometimes socially ostracized for his unconventional associations and was at times was considered mad by his family (Mk 3:21) and other Jews (Jn 10:20).

T: Our critic once again displays his incredible lack of knowledge of the social background of the situation. Jesus' "unconventional associations" were with tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers, the marginalized and oppressed of society.

Turkel is of course mistaken [#misrep] to think I did not know who I was referring to by “Jesus’ unconventional associations.”

T: What was actually happening here is that Jesus was standing against ritual purity taboos heavily ingrained in ancient society.

Right–and he incurred a resulting degree of social isolation–despite Turkel’s claim that he “showed no sign at all” of it.

T: Good or bad, whatever Jesus does, it seems, is evidence of mental illness!

An obvious strawman [#misrep]. There are of course myriad things Jesus does in the Gospels that are not indicative of mental illness. Precisely none of them can count as a guarantee that Jesus never had any delusions.

T: As for the declarations of madness, we would point out as we did long ago, and below, that the assesments [sic] are hardly those of qualified professionals, and are countered by assessments by persons just as qualified: John 10:21

Turkel again pretends that any allegation of madness is worthless if not made by a trained professional, and ignores the fact that the contrary assessments were from Jesus’ believers. He simply misses the point that the diagnosis of delusionality is quite plausible if one is willing–as Turkel obviously isn’t–to reserve judgment about the truth of the reports of Jesus’ divinity.

T: The best our critic can do here, and several times hereafter, is claim that the Trilemma fails if "the reports of Jesus are consistent with mental illness"; actually it fails only if the reports are shown to be only consistent with mental illness, and there is no contrary evidence.

Turkel here betrays a misunderstanding of elementary logic. What he describes is the burden of showing that Jesus must have been a lunatic (i.e. delusional). But the burden of the Trilemma[#] is to show that Jesus must not have been a lunatic (or liar), and the Trilemma fails if Jesus merely could have been a lunatic. I explained this point to Turkel no less than eight times in my previous response, but he still fails to comprehend it. As I told Turkel in each of my two previous responses:

H: The mere existence of this fourth alternative [of a delusional Jesus] doesn't in itself prove that this alternative is true. But it's unrebutted existence DOES invalidate the trilemma argument, whose validity depends on there being no non-lord options besides liar and lunatic. It may in fact be possible to prove Jesus' lordship through other more-direct arguments, but the Trilemma itself fails to do so if the fourth option is not actually SHOWN to be false. All this means is that the real debate is between "lord" and such a fourth option. The invalidity of the Trilemma doesn't lend any weight to either side of that real debate--it's simply a fact of logic that is inconvenient for those seeking an easier alternative to the real debate.

I’ve now repeated the above paragraph to Turkel twice more in this response; what are the chances he’ll notice it and understand it?

T: the expression could mean that Jesus' family members "are such not merely by human bonds, but especially because they obey the Father." (Keep this in mind, as our critic elsewhere claims that Jesus has nothing good to say to his family

First, Elst’s term “family” here obviously refers to his biological family, and blatantly redefining the word is nothing more than the fallacy[#] of equivocation. Second, if “our critic” refers to me instead of Elst, then Turkel’s powers of scholarship fail him yet again. Turkel’s subsequent quoting of me clearly shows that I did not subscribe to Elst’s claim [#misrep?], but rather just pointed out that Turkel has not refuted it:

H: [Turkel] says nothing to contradict 1) Elst's implication that Jesus was angry with his family and 2) Elst's statement that Jesus has no friendly words for his family or mother

T: but as Elst's poor interpretation of this passage is his grounds for such an argument, our response does render the matter pointless, for in that case the anger and lack of friendliness otherwise must be gratuitiously [sic] assumed to be behind the scenes

This unsupported assertion of a “gratuitous assumption” simply does not constitute a refutation of Elst’s implication that Jesus was angry with his family.

T: as well as rest on the assumption that it was Jesus, not his family, that was the instigator of the hostility

No such assumption is necessary, except for the undeniable observation that Jesus’ ministry was a significant cause for the apparently strained relations. Again, Turkel dares[#] not attempt to produce any gospel citations showing that Jesus ever had friendly words for his family or mother.

T: Jesus is predicting that the family will be the miscreants, not himself or the believers. (Our critic is forced to spin this out for his purposes by claiming that it shows "bitterness" on Jesus' part! There's that ability to mind-read over the centuries again!...)

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see[#] why my conclusion of bitterness involves not “mind-reading” but rather just this plausible explanation:

H: his own family [..] would have been his earliest and most devoted disciples if Jesus were really divine. But they weren't, because he wasn't.

Instead of rebutting this explanation, he rehearses [#!win] his tired conceit (“forced”) that a successful defense of my thesis against his weak arguments should somehow make my thesis less believable.

T: Why could it not be said regretfully, or matter-of-factly?

Jesus could of course be regretful and even matter-of-fact about his disappointment at his family. How does that make his disappointment necessarily not bitter?

T: Not surprisingly, our critic almost entirely washes his hands of Elst and does nothing to defend him from our critique, other than the two minor points above. One wonders why Elst was even bothered with at all.

My mention of Elst was the final sentence of an extended discussion of the symptoms of schizophrenia and its variant called paraphrenia, in which I merely said that Elst’s is “an interesting published attempt to diagnose paraphrenia in Jesus.” It is typical that Turkel devotes three times as much space to discussing the idiosyncratic Elst than he does to discussing Jesus’ symptoms. Indeed, Turkel’s primary article on the Trilemma still contains no mention at all of schizophrenia or paraphrenia, but instead goes on at length about the “Messiah complex” and “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.” Turkel’s Trilemma article simply cannot be considered a serious attempt to address whether Jesus exhibited the symptomology of delusional schizophrenia.

Jesus’ Miracles

T: our critic has provided no way to differentiate between blindness, etc. caused by hysteria and that which is not

The way to differentiate between a conversion disorder (which Turkel still misleadingly calls “hysteria”) and physiological deficits is through the usual clinical techniques. The fact that the gospels do not provide enough data to differentiate between conversion disorders and physiological deficits is hardly an argument that they cannot be the former, but in fact is the very reason why we cannot conclude they must be the latter!

T: and merely assumes (presumably, under the all-purpose guise of the "most parsimonious explanation") that the conditions described must be associated as such.

Turkel again fails to distinguish [#misrep] between my assumptions and my conclusions. We both look at the same Gospel data, but he explains it as miracles and I explain it as conventional faith healing. Anyone who knows anything about epistemology and philosophy of science knows that parsimony is indeed the all-purpose way to choose among theses of equal explanatory power. Turkel, however, dares[#] not compare the parsimoniousness of our competing theses, because he realizes that doing so wins the debate–for me.

T: This amounts to an admission that the data, as it stands, does not support the critic's view, and therefore must be serviced with filled-in gaps amenable to the assumed skeptical paradigm.

The data indeed support (i.e. are consistent with) my view, and my view is more parsimonious than Turkel’s. Thus my view should be considered correct, but Turkel instead pretends [#misrep] that any conclusion other than his must instead be a mere assumption.

H: Embellishment implies falsehood, but falsehood alone does not imply lying.

T: Didn't our critic just get through saying that the Gospels were probably a mix of "misinterpretation, exaggeration, rationalization, delusion, and deception"? In other words, at least three parts out of five, possibly four, involving lying?

Since the scholar Turkel failed to look up “lying” in the dictionary (as I challenged him to), I’ll do it for him. A lie is a falsehood deliberately presented as truth. None of these five things necessarily involve known falseness (since even deception can merely be the omission of relevant truths, and exaggeration can be unintentional). Turkel also still hasn’t grasped my earlier point that Luke could merely have been a conveyor of this embellishment, rather than its originator.

By now, of course, our remediation of Turkel’s vocabulary has taken us far afield from the original point, which nonetheless remains perfectly valid: three of the four Gospel accounts of the severed ear–including the most detailed account–do not mention Jesus healing it, and this is sufficient grounds to reject that story element as an embellishment (by Luke or his source(s)).

T: So which is it? Is it whatever is convenient to keep the theory afloat?

This successful defense of my theory elicits from Turkel yet another sputtering complaint [#!win] that my theory is still afloat (i.e. that he is unable to sink it).

T: That our critic only calls the Gospel writer liars most of the time is not lessened by that he does not call them that at other times!

Turkel does not admit [#misrep] that in fact I have yet to tell him of a single Gospel element that I claim was known to be false by a Gospel author himself. I dare Turkel to quote me otherwise. He of course will not–nor will his readers probably ever see the previous two sentences in their entirety.

H: Even theist philosophers acknowledge that miracles are by definition unusual and out of the ordinary. Turkel's 'I haven't seen one' standard is another of his hopeless strawmen. Turkel doesn't dare enunciate the ACTUAL justification: I haven't seen one, and I haven't seen a credible report of one, and I've seen many reports of them that are non-credible, and everything I have seen can better be explained without miracles and miracle-workers.

T: Our critic has again done nothing but sum up subjective experience and judgment, and thereby only proven me right once again! The entire basis is his personal experience, and that of those he agrees with!

The desperate Turkel here tries to pretend that any justification I could possibly have would still be “subjective” simply because, ultimately, it’s personally taken by me as a justification! By Turkel’s definition, any judgment is similarly “subjective,” and thus his complaint of subjectivity is demonstrated to be meaningless.

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see[#] my rebuttal of his charge that naturalism is my “faith-paradigm”:

H: [he] seeks to defend what he seems to acknowledge is his epistemic crime of faith, by fatuously saying that I too am guilty of it. He is of course flat wrong, as he is unable to name a single proposition that I believe based on authority and hold exempt from doubt.

Nor does Turkel dare let his readers see[#] my related question:

H: Which is more 'convenient':

1) assuming that a set of reported faith healings of possibly psychosomatic afflictions were indeed no more than faith healings, or

2) assuming they were miraculous?

Turkel seems ultimately unwilling or unable to debate the epistemological foundations of the Trilemma argument.

T: From there, the rest which cannot be explained away definitively is explained away via rationalization and the hope that someday, someone--science, aliens, James Randi--will figure out what "actually" happened and that it wasn't a miracle!

With his sputtering litany of strawmen [#misrep], Turkel has forgotten the context. The miracle under discussion is the restoration of the severed ear. I have no need to “hope” for a future explanation, since I already have a plausible explanation for what happened: an ear was severed, and someone involved in transmitting the gospel story added the embellishment of miraculous restoration.

T: And when necessary, claim that an explanation is "more parsimonious" simply because it fits in our assumed worldview better!

Realizing that parsimony is the key to why he’s wrong and I’m right, Turkel again sneers at the concept without daring to engage me on its substance.

T: Our critic makes the point that John does not mention the healing; what of it? John does mention other things uniquely that he considered more important; this does nothing to alter my thesis of general inclinations of individual writers, and ignores the point that John was intended to supplement the Synoptic records.

Turkel here is oblivious to the obvious riposte that if John was only “supplementing” the Synoptics, he wouldn’t have needed to mention the ear being severed in the first place–or indeed to mention much of the rest of the Passion, either.

T: Was Malchus now a Christian, and would bringing up this incident have endangered him if it had been reported in Matthew and Mark's earlier works, whereas in the later or geographically removed works of John and Luke, it would not? [..] This does not require, as our critic somehow thinks, that Malchus "wore a hat pulled down over his restored ear for the rest of his life"--why would that be necessary?

If Malchus were endangered by evidence of his ear’s miraculous restoration, then the presence of the ear blows his cover.

T: The ear was healed and there would be no sign of it ever having been lost!

Both Mark and Matthew report it as severed in the very accounts that Turkel earlier claimed would blow Malchus’ cover if they mentioned the healing. Now Turkel presumes that nobody would notice that those accounts say the ear had been severed. Turkel here just can’t keep his arguments from stepping on each other and yielding another fallacy[#] of contradiction.

H: If Turkel has any evidence that placebo effects (such as conventional faith-healing) cannot be indefinite, he should present that evidence rather than baldly asserting it to be obvious.

T: It is obvious, in terms of the types of miracles under discussion: Healing those blind from birth versus healing back pain, for example! Our critic commits that category error yet again!

Turkel here talks of “the types of miracles under discussion,” but then mentions [#retreat] the only healing miracle that is claimed to have been for a congenital condition. He knows quite well it is the only such miracle in the gospels. He knows quite well it is only recorded in one gospel. He knows quite well it is only recorded in the latest gospel (thus making skeptical investigation most difficult). He knows quite well that the congenitalness of the condition is recorded as being disputed. Turkel is blatantly disingenuous to then claim that placebo effects are of a different “category” as “the types of miracles under discussion.”

And of course, Turkel does not dare let his readers see[#] (let alone answer) my challenge to deny the comparability of the treatment of psychosomatic affliction through placebo effects and conventional faith-healing.

Lastly, Turkel dares[#] not attempt to satisfy my request for evidence that placebo effects cannot be indefinite.

T: Are these faith-healers able to induce a permanent cure? [..] if the parallel were to hold, then Jesus and his movement, like the faith-healers, ought to have had a minimum following of loyalists and practically no new converts!

H: Turkel here cites no faith-healer who claimed divine specialness and then martyred himself, and thus his "parallel" does not "hold."

T: He also says I have named no such healer who went to martyrdom, which is exactly the point! They don't have the wherewithal or the goods to even try, which they should have, if they had a genuine gift and an anointing from God!

Turkel here makes the bizarre claim that being able to found a long-lived religious movement is evidence that the founder’s faith healings were miracles. This is simply a desperate attempt to evade the point that there is no credible evidence that Jesus’ faith healings were any different from those of conventional faith-healers.

T: it doesn't take many complaints of false healing to flush the whole effort down the toilet! Here again our critic can only point yet again to Jesus not doing miracles at home, and the "mad" evaluation of his family, addressed below and above respectively.

In other words, I can “only” demonstrate that Jesus’ record as a miracle-worker was so poor that even the Gospels could not help but mention his shortcomings. Despite Turkel’s claim, he in fact here does not let his readers see[#] (and has never dared address) my repeated point that Jesus’ family should have been his earliest and most devout followers. Turkel’s efforts on hometown miracles are laughable; see below.

T: [our critic] has now even declared closer allegiance to the idea that Jesus may not have died

Turkel’s powers of textual analysis fail him yet again [#misrep]. All I said was that “nothing in [the Lazarus account] supports a firm diagnosis of death, as opposed to e.g. John the Baptist’s beheading, or Judas’s hanging himself.” Turkel, of course, does not let his readers see[#] this point.

H: the prior plausibility of the story element in question, the possible motivations for the one author to include it, and the likelihood that the remaining authors would exclude it if they believed it.

T: what if one mentions only algor mortis, and one mentions that and rigor mortis?

We just check the prior plausibility. Background probability that algor mortis is accompanied by rigor mortis? Close to 100%. Background probability that ear severing is accompanied by ear restoration? Close to 0%.

T: skeptics have a ready excuse and a theoey [sic] for every possible combination of events.

This is a lie [#misrep], since I already told Turkel precisely what “combination” of evidence would make me a believer in Christianity. But Turkel can’t win by substantive discussion of the evidence, so he instead pretends that skeptics are closed-minded. Indeed, he dares not let his readers see[#] my rebuttal of his repeated charge of irrelevance:

H: if the ancients who created the gospel tradition prematurely and incorrectly considered these non-dead people to be dead, and these people later recovered from their illness, then their recoveries are not the miraculous resurrections that the gospels say they are.

Instead, unwilling to edit his article and unable to answer my argument, he ignores this rebuttal.

T: What is at stake is preserving disbelief, not a rational consideration of the available data.

While I calmly and rationally consider each of the few pieces of “data” that Turkel bothers to muster, he prefers instead to make claims about my assumptions that are obviously and demonstrably false.

T: The initial complaint, requiring mention of these various symptoms of death, falls flat unless it is definitively shown that description of such effects was somehow normal in ancient accounts of death

Obviously false [#misrep]. I nowhere “require mention of these various symptoms of death.” I simply point out that we happen not to have firm evidence of death in these three cases of reanimation, and that this sharply contrasts with e.g. the account of the beheading of John the Baptist.

T: it would defy common sense to suggest that Lazarus' family and/or friends did nothing to ascertain death before taking steps for ritual observance and burying

H: I of course don't suggest they "did nothing"; I merely suggest that whatever they did may have led them to an incorrectly premature diagnosis of death.

T: Our critic backpedals furiously

Turkel again employs [#!win] his laughable device of saying that I “backpedal furiously” just because I correct his blatant misinterpretation of my position.

T: not even acknowledging the irrelevance of certain of the criteria he uncritically listed

That some symptoms of death were less likely to be noticeable than others does not make any of them impossible to have occurred. If even the least likely symptom had in fact been reported of Lazarus, Turkel would of course eagerly tout it as firm evidence of death–and rightly so. Or does he instead claim that if one of these “irrelevant criteria” were given, he would then consider it to be an embellishment?

T: Six of one, half dozen of the other! The point remains, our critic thinks they did essentially nothing viable to ascertain death, or did not recognize it as such

Turkel here pathetically tries [#retreat] to equate being mistaken in diagnosing death with doing nothing to diagnose death. He should take note: this is what it looks like when someone “backpedals furiously.”

T: this in spite of obvious signs, the obvious human concern, and the immense experience of the ancients with death; see link just above.

And to cover his retreat, Turkel just repeats previous irrelevancies. Neither “human concern” nor the “immense experience of the ancients” is a guarantee against premature diagnosis of death, and of course there is no evidence that any special ancient expertise was employed in this case.

H: Their ability to recognize a definitely dead person as dead simply does not imply their inability to ever consider a barely-alive person to be dead.

T: That's a real whopper of logic!

Does Turkel think that highlighting the logicality of my argument somehow weakens its force?

T: So they knew the signs of "dead" but didn't connect it with dead?

No, they were not guaranteed to never mistake a barely-alive person for dead.

T: They didn't make the connect this time, because it is convenient for our critic to say so?

Evidence is always “convenient” for the truth–that is the very nature of truth. If Lazarus had been beheaded, or hung, or in the belly of a whale for three days, that would be another story. But yes, “this time” his fate was not any of those. That’s not my fault; that’s simply what the Gospels say.

T: They had some category of deadness where those "barely-alive" or in the tomb for days were called dead?

If by “category of deadness” Turkel means they were aware of it when they placed in a burial cave someone barely alive, then no. If by “category of deadness” Turkel means there was a possible set of cases in which they could mistakenly place in a burial cave someone barely alive, then yes.

T: Where is this shown to be true in any ancient document?[2] The only possible example is in the case of imminent death with Jairus' daughter; see below, and that is not at all applicable to post-mortem categorization!

Turkel answers his own question, and then commits the fallacy[#] of begging the question by assuming that Lazarus truly was a “post-mortem categorization” instead of a pre-mortem one. (Turkel should note that this is what a “begged question” actually looks like, whereas in his idiolect a “begged question” is just any self-consistent explanation that he happens to disagree with.)

T: Our critic is desperately grasping at any straw now, begging exceptions and oddities wherever he can!

I of course am merely evaluating the available evidence surrounding the three supposed reanimations. Unable to to put a dent in my evaluation, Turkel here resorts to unsubstantiated sputtering [#childish] generalizations.

T: what this all boils down to is the same issue of assuming the ancients were too stupid to recognize serious illness and death when they saw it, or were just stupid at the times necessary for our critic to keep his thesis afloat, but not necessarily at other times.

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see [#lose] my refutation of his first clause, but his claim is so obviously false that he nevertheless has to modify it with this new “or..” clause. Of course, Turkel’s new effort still misrepresents [#misrep] my claim, since being “stupid at times” is obviously not equivalent to being “not always correct in distinguishing someone barely alive from someone who has just died”–which remains my actual claim. For good measure, Turkel again adds [#!win] an implication (“afloat”) that a successful defense of my thesis is a victory for him.

T: and it just so happened that no one checked, no countering signs took place, no nothing

Turkel yet again [#misrep] gets my position wrong. I need not claim that “no one checked”; I merely need claim that no one checked successfully. I need not claim that “no countering signs took place” (assuming “countering” here means “vital”); I merely need claim that no vital signs were noticed. Here Turkel dares not let his readers see[#] my rebuttal that “funereal procedures could be the very reason why nobody noticed 1) any faint signs of life, or 2) that the indications of death were failing to develop.”

T: (and quoting Carrier here, when he has been soundly refuted for drawing illicit parallels [on some other topic], accomplishes nothing).

Turkel here dares not substantively answer–or even let his readers see[#]–my quote from Carrier that “the scene described in Luke 7:15 is actually identical to various stories told about famous doctors to justify their renowned skill (Pliny Natural History 7.124, Apuleius Metamorphoses 2.28, 3.24, 10.12 and Florida 19)” (from Beckwith on Historiography, which includes an extended discussion of the psychosomatic features of Jesus’ healing miracles).

Jesus Avoiding Danger

T: he claims he didn't call them different events, but is obfuscating: listing them twice amounts to doing the same thing if one does not signify somehow that they are parallels

Turkel here dares not let his readers see [#lose] my response that I had called them “mutually confirming reports,” which should be enough to indicate parallelism to anyone not ignorant of the fact that the Gospels are four versions of the same story. Nor does he let his readers see that I explicitly called them “references to Jesus hiding himself,” as opposed to (say) “instances” of Jesus hiding himself.

T: What normal person or being doesn't [sometimes chose discretion over valor]? (He thinks an "omniscient omnipotent deity" doesn't, but still does not solve the problem of what just such a deity ought to do; see below)

His point having been soundly rebutted, Turkel here desperately [#retreat] changes the subject–to a separate point that is also soundly rebutted; see below.

T: Our critic then puts his foot in his mouth yet again, saying

More empty Turkel [#childish] bluster.

H: Mark 3:7 continues: 'But Jesus withdrew himself and his disciples to the sea' and to the (presumably protective) midst of 'a great multitude' of his followers.

T: So now apparently, Jesus could not even have followers without being accused of cowardice!

Turkel again misrepresents [#misrep] my position. I never said that being in a protective crowd is cowardice, and in fact below explicitly told Turkel that this would have been a good way for Jesus to avoid having to withdraw from danger. What I said was that Turkel’s claim that “the threat wasn’t immediate” in Mark 3:6 is immediately refuted by Mark 3:7. I defy Turkel to quote the consecutive Gospel words “[..] how they might destroy him. But Jesus withdrew himself [..]” and then claim this was not a withdrawal in the face of danger.

T: Our critic has this idea that I do not "dare" do certain things--more of that long-distance psychology again, no doubt--but if the daring is lacking, it is only because the dare is without substance in the first place!

Anyone who wants to see Turkel’s own withdrawal in the face of polemical danger has merely to search this text for the strings “dares[#]” and “see[#]”. I’ve marked 46 [#total] places where Turkel either doesn’t answer an argument or doesn’t even let his readers see it. I dare Turkel to fully quote and then answer each of these marked arguments.

T: He tries to salvage his bacon further by quoting Luke 13:33

Yet another instance of Turkel claiming [#!win] that a successful defense of my thesis should somehow count against me. Turkel implies that this is the first time I’ve quoted Luke 13:33, when in fact I quoted it in each of my two previous responses, and this is merely the first time that Turkel could bring himself to address it directly.

H: "Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." It's indisputable that when Jesus was told of the threat, he admitted he would be withdrawing 'today' in the face of this danger and apparently was embarrassed enough to try to make an excuse for his retreat.

T: Some retreat that would be! Not only does Jesus tell everyone in hearing where he was going (Jerusalem!), he announces that he is walking (not "fleeing" or "running"--the word used implies a normal journey). That's some kind of retreat in process!

Turkel here does not even attempt to deny that this is a withdrawal in the face of danger. All he can do is point out that Jesus could have withdrawn more quickly–and thus he concedes Jesus’ withdrawal. There is no evidence that “everyone in hearing” included anyone who would betray Jesus’ ultimate destination or his possibly roundabout route there, and Jerusalem was at any rate not a hard place to hide in. Jesus doesn’t need to “run” to be guilty of withdrawing from danger; he merely needs to “depart” when the person warning him of danger says he should do so.[3]

T: Our critic crows here that I "do not deny" the danger avoidance, but as we have said time and again, this is of no relevance--he has not, and still will not, show any logical way to exercise true prudence for the sake of preserving a mission.

False. I gave an example of a way, and Turkel even goes on to immediately quote it:

T: Now we are told that

H: an omniscient omnipotent being could arrange to never have to retreat from danger. For example, he could have arranged that at key moments of danger he always just happened to be in a crowd of followers who would be understood by 'the bad guys' as preventing harm to Jesus.

T: What the hey? We were just told a few paragraphs ago that this was just another form of running away!

False [#misrep]. I said that retreating from danger to the protection of a crowd is indeed a withdrawal in the face of danger, but I never said that being in a protective crowd in the first place is such a withdrawal, and I in fact just said that “always just happen[ing] to be in a [protective] crowd” would be a good way “to never have to retreat from danger.”

I will try to make this as easy as possible for Turkel to understand:

  • (withdrawing from danger to a protective crowd) counts as (withdrawal from danger);
  • (already being in a protective crowd when danger arises) does not count as (withdrawal from danger).

T: Our critic apparently can't keep himself consistent--and still hasn't provided any logical alternative!

False, and false. Turkel simply misconstrues the plain text of what I say, and so doesn’t recognize an “alternative” even when I preface it with “for example”!

T: And again, sorry, hiding in crowds is just another form of running!

Sorry, but not being in danger by already being safely in a crowd is simply not the same thing as being in danger and having to withdraw. The former makes one look powerful and safe; the latter makes one look weak and scared.

H: a truly omniscient Jesus [who] could have continued his journey five minutes before being told of Herod's threat

T:--not that five minutes, or even hours, did much when the powers that be had horses and you didn't!

Turkel here forgets that Jesus was allegedly omnipotent. He could casually leave and arrange that the relevant people not notice where he went. Turkel simply has a stunted imagination if he thinks that the only three options of an omnipotent omniscience would be to “zap” people, be seen “teleporting,” or be seen withdrawing after danger has become evident. There are myriad ways that an omnipotent omniscience could withdraw before danger is evident and without obvious miracles.

T:--it could still be spun out as "avoidance of danger" to say nothing of dismissed by our critic as embellishment!

Turkel here is simply obtuse to the point that if Jesus did things right, then there would be no record of withdrawal from danger for me to point to! It would be ludicrous to claim that if Jesus were divine, then evidence of him withdrawing from danger would by metaphysical necessity have to turn up in the Gospel accounts. Does Turkel dare make such a claim?

T: Direct, ideological confrontation with his opponents was essential to Jesus' ministry! The exchanges between Jesus and his enemies represented contests of personal honor before witnesses which an ancient, honor-respecting society would require of anyone who defiantly stood against a given status quo. Hustling out five minutes before the opponents got there wasn't a live option if Jesus wanted his message to be spread and respected by others!

I never said anything about “hustling,” and Jesus could debate and confront all he wanted as long as he happened to prevent situations from arising in which he would be recorded as withdrawing from danger. As a parallel, consider the Gospel record of all the fist fights Jesus had. There were none! Jesus was busy “confronting opponents” to win “respect,” yet none of them ever took a swing at him. Is the non-existence of any such fist fights to be taken as evidence of the sort of “all-too-obvious miraculous effort” that Turkel contends are the only way Jesus had to avoid looking bad? Of course not.

T: I note that the critic still offered no connection to a "time" when things would be right. The critic quotes John 7:6 (and requotes it again, still not effectively rescinding my point as no explanation or exegesis provided, merely "quote and there it is")

Turkel’s claim of “no explanation” is a lie. He does not dare let his readers see[#] my explanation.

T: Jesus was "purposely staying away from [people] waiting to take his life" because "the right time for me has not yet come."

Turkel here simply closes his eyes and wishes away the plain text of Jn 7:1-8, and in particular the straightforward connection of 7:6,8 with 7:1. Turkel seems so accustomed to writing entire essays explaining why simple bible verses don’t mean what they plainly say, that he rejects as inadequate my claim that these verses do mean what they plainly say.

Jesus’ Failed Ministry

H: Turkel here doesn't dare deny my statement that 'the mere existence of Christianity hardly proves that Jesus was divine'.

T: Actually I do deny it--I had an article in process at the time I wrote this; here it is.

(An interlude, on the state of the debate. In answering Turkel’s “chicken challenge” to “pick any essay of” his and refute it, I have as of this response already refuted not only his Trilemma article and his separate essay defending it, but also the substance or relevancy of nine other essays:

  • John’s chronology vs. synoptics
  • Olivet prophecy
  • Jesus as God’s Wisdom
  • Lincoln biographies
  • Divine claims of Jesus
  • Despair on the cross
  • Jesus hating his family
  • Miller on Mark/John Christology
  • How God could prove himself

Here Turkel tries to pull yet another essay onto his funeral pyre of arguments. Since it is so tedious–not to mention cruel–to enumerate Turkel’s dozens of blatant failures to adequately answer my Trilemma counter arguments, I may indeed decide to switch gears and annihilate another of his toplevel articles. The criterion I use for my decision would probably be the number of outstanding points he has failed to answer [#total: 9 + 37] and clear misrepresentations [#total: 33] of my positions. With this number totaling 79 in just his most recent response, it’s anyway probably time to pronounce as dead the smear on the ground that constitutes the remains of his Trilemma argument.)

H: What reason do we have to believe that this so-called 'polemical record' represents anything approaching a thorough and contemporaneous effort of skeptical journalism? And note that miraculous power was ascribed to many people in ancient times.

T:--the first aspect is nought [sic] but the same begged question [i.e., "If James Randi had been around he woulda figured it out! Everyone else was too dumb."];

Strawman [#misrep]. I don’t say they were “too dumb”; I say they were too credulous and too non-contemporaneous with the alleged events to be expected to have debunked the miracle allegations. Turkel here gives no reason why we should believe that word of Jesus’ failures would have reached us, and gives no examples of the oh-so-smart oh-so-skeptical ancients debunking the reports about any other miracle-workers.

T: the second aspect a meaningless, non-specific parallel thrown in the air for polemical purposes, as well as the same begged question

Turkel here gives no response to the point that opponents of Jesus who believe in miracles would be less likely to criticize him on grounds that his miracles were not genuine.

H: a "lack of people's faith" is for a mere faith-healer PRECISELY THE SAME THING as the faith-healer not being able to do the faith-healing

T: it is no such thing; it is the same as saying that one could not rescue another from a pit, because the victim in the pit refused help, pelting the rescuer with rocks and missiles until they left.

Turkel here fails to grasp a point of elementary logic. If a person lacks faith and then Jesus does not heal them, that could be because (1) the divine Jesus declines to miraculously heal the faithless, or (2) the nondivine Jesus cannot faith-heal someone who lacks faith. That is, the faithless ending up not being healed by Jesus is entirely consistent with Jesus being a nondivine faith-healer. If Jesus were a mere faith-healer, we would expect that those who knew him longest–his family members and hometown neighbors–would be least impressed by his act. If by contrast Jesus always had miraculous powers, we would expect that those who knew him longest would his most faithful followers. They weren’t.

H: Turkel dares not address my point that the opinion of Jesus' madness was rendered by those who knew him best: his family (Mk 3:21).

T: Jesus violated the norms of his culture in a variety of ways, for example by associating with tax collectors and prostitutes, he was violating the accepted social norms and purity codes. In so doing he brought dishonor on his family in the eyes of his contemporaries--and the "madness" line of reasoning not only does not represent the evaluation of a trained psychologist, but also amounts to no more than a makeshift accusation designed to a) explain away and mute the dishonor of the situation;

Turkel here gives utterly no explanation for why his family, after knowing Jesus to be perfectly sinless and altruistic for three decades, would explain his unconventional associations as “madness” instead of blessed compassion. Jesus’ family seems to rather have dissociated themselves from him–despite the alleged angelic revelations to his parents around the time of his birth.

T: [or] b) get others to move away from Jesus by describing him as ritually impure! The "madness" reasoning is functionally equivalent to saying Jesus was a leper, but had the advantage of not being visibly testable.

After quoting my challenge about Jesus’ family, Turkel here either (1) does not address it (and instead talks about third-party madness allegations), or (2) makes the ludicrous claim that Jesus’ family wanted “others to move away from Jesus” as if he were a “leper.”

T: That there were not trained professionals making the diagnosis is merely waved off as of no relevance, but as shown, nor is the family's judgment in the context the critic wishes to prove!...

Turkel here does not let his readers see [#lose] this challenge to his ideas:

H: a) that Jesus' family's opinion was "polemical", [..] and c) that "but others said" is in John 10:21 an indication of "overwhelmingly contrary opinion." Turkel's claims here are self-refuting.

Nor does Turkel notice that he dismisses as “non-professional” the diagnoses of Jesus’ family but endorses (despite being equally “non-professional”!) the diagnoses of Jesus’ believers. Who is more likely to make an objective diagnosis, those who knew Jesus all his life or those recently converted by his faith healings?

T: OK, let's name all those places where Jesus "often was reluctant or evasive when asked to demonstrate his powers"--the only place like this that might work, where Jesus did not indeed go on to use his powers, is 0 ! Our critc [sic] says I don't "dare" deny it--OK, I deny it! Now bring up the goods!

I said Turkel “dares not deny that Jesus often was reluctant or evasive when asked to demonstrate his powers,” and I did not qualify it with the condition that Jesus was not later recorded in the Gospels as nevertheless “go[ing] on to use his powers.” I could indeed “name all those places” where Jesus was reluctant or evasive, but Turkel will just claim that he intends the qualification. I in fact dared him to deny that Jesus often was reluctant or evasive, period–even if Jesus is said to subsequently use his powers. Turkel won’t deny this unqualified statement, because it’s so obviously true. The bottom line here is that, unable to refute my claim that Jesus “often was reluctant or evasive when asked to demonstrate his powers,” Turkel tries to claim that it doesn’t matter. He is oblivious to the fact that reports of such reluctance and evasiveness are precisely what we would expect if Jesus weren’t divine–just as later allegations of subsequent miracles are precisely what we would expect from accounts trying to convince us of his divinity.

T: I am accused of red herring fishing by our critic, but this is mere whitewashing on his part, an attempt to evade the argument and defense of the premisses upon which so much of his thesis is based.

Turkel here doesn’t dare let his readers see [#lose] the substance of my “red herring” accusation, and has the audacity to instead claim that I “attempt to evade the argument.” He doesn’t dare let his readers see my charge:

H: Turkel continues his red herring attempt to attract attention away from his indefensible comparison of my "sound bite" reporting the consensus of professional secular scholarship [about the length of Jesus' ministry] and his "sound bite" that simply assumes the gospels are completely true. The two simply are not comparable, and so Turkel vainly tries to change the subject.

Instead of defending his “sound bite” comparison, he just hides from his readers the fact that he lost on this point. Turkel does not identify a single point made in the text of his essay that I’ve “evaded,” whereas I identify 46 [#total] separate points that he cannot bring himself to answer or even let his readers see.

H: The idea that Jesus' ministry was three years long and that he cleansed the temple twice etc. is a dead meme.

T: 1. Jesus knows many people in the Jerusalem area [..]

There is no evidence he didn’t meet them before starting his ministry.

T: 2. Jesus had certainly been to Jerusalem before numerous times; as a Jew he was almost obliged to go there to attend the festivals! Would critics contend that he never went there in his 12-15 years as an adult, or during the key 2-3 years, even as an observant Jew?

No; we’d contend that during his one-year ministry he only went there once. He could have been there numerous times before his ministry.

T: Those who read the Synoptics woodenly think he was there only once, at the end of his ministry

No, they think he was there only once during his ministry, and that indeed was at the end of his ministry.

T: 3. Mark's allusion to "green grass" (6:39) indicates a season before summer heat scorches the grass brown

A reference to “sitting [..] on the green grass,” written years or decades after the event, simply cannot be taken as a temporal marker comparable to, say, an annual festival. It is hardly surprising that, in a fond memory of sitting in the grass, the grass would be described as green![4]

T: Matt. 24:30, where the "Son of Man in the clouds" image first appears, is now covered in the essay and we encourage our critic to read it and offer no response as with these others. Which in essence he does now, saying,

H: None of Turkel's obfuscations can make it plausible that some preaching in Rome and the destruction of the Temple makes the Olivet prophecy true.

Turkel’s claim that “in essence” I “offer no response” is itself in essence a blatant lie. He does not dare let his readers see[#] the conclusion of my response:

H: The the city of Rome is not the same thing as the "whole world," and being in "heaven" is not the same thing as "appear[ing] in the sky" and being "see[n as] coming on the clouds of the sky." The prophesied things plainly didn't happen during "this generation," and the prophecy is plainly false.

Turkel continues:

T: It appears that our critic can't handle a revisit to complex subjects, and settles for calling them "dead memes" and blowing them off!

If Turkel claims that one or more of the obfuscations in his “complex” essay on the Olivet prophecy can explain the equatings that I question above, then I challenge him to identify it. It is doubtful that he will, just as he dared not answer or even let his readers see [#lose] my demonstration of his incorrect attribution to me of quotes about his “lack of knowledge” about Jesus “hiding.”

T: What I'm doing is citing someone who says that there are no references in Josephus of this sort

Turkel here dares not let his readers see [#lose] my retort: “In other words, Turkel is repeating the report of someone who read Josephus. Well, so am I. QED.”

H: [But I have the works of Josephus sitting at my feet as I type this--] let's hear some of those cites, then, where Josephus records someone saying he is the Messiah!

T: Significantly our critic in his latest reply manages not to report to his readers that I have my copy of Josephus

I restore the contested words above, and note that Turkel hypocritically dares not let his readers see[#] the reason why his claim about his feet is irrelevant:

H: Carrier's claim was that "many individuals were claiming to be, or were proclaimed to be, messiahs of one form or another in Jesus' day (Josephus recounts several)." Since Turkel cannot even precisely state the contested issue, his non-quoting citation of O'Neill to the contrary is even more suspect.

Turkel hypocritically ignores my refrain that I have no fear of anyone reading anything Turkel writes, and have been posting Turkel’s unedited responses in full and linking to them from my responses. By contrast, Turkel dares not include this link in either of his two essays in which my edited responses appear.

T: and have made my check

Turkel here faults me for not telling his readers he “made [his] check,” but this is the first time he’s actually claimed to have made a check! Indeed, Turkel ignored my specific complaint (repeated below) that he has not actually quoted a single word from his “source” O’Neill. Turkel also dares not let his readers see[#] that I noted a difference between what Turkel only now says he “checked”–“Josephus record[ing] someone saying he is the Messiah”–and what actually is Carrier’s claim: “many individuals were claiming to be, or were proclaimed to be, messiahs of one form or another in Jesus’ day (Josephus recounts several).”

T:--and then passes on making his own report, still deferring merely to Carrier.

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see[#] my actual response:

H: I've quoted Carrier, but we have only Turkel's word that O'Neill contradicts Carrier. Given Turkel's past scholarship errors (e.g. misquoting me above, distorting the context of the psychology article earlier, being unable to find and report all the gospel passages relevant to withdrawal in the face of danger), I'm not going to recapitulate anyone's published research on the basis of Turkel's hand-waving non-quoting claim that some other research contradicts it.

Can the scholar Turkel actually quote O’Neill? Can the scholar Turkel even correctly state the issue in contention here? One wonders.[5]

T: It is claimed that I "admitted" that none of the claims [of Jesus' personal divinity] were such a direct statement, which is patently false in some cases, and in one case, no longer true, as in the Son of Man title.

Turkel’s essay said that “the direct claim ‘I am God’ [..] would have been a little too confusing to Jesus’ hearers.” If there is some synonym of ‘God’ or ‘divine’ that Turkel now wants to claim Jesus used after the words “I am,” then I’d love to hear it.

H: people could not be guaranteed not to misinterpret, misunderstand, exaggerate, or selectively forget the sayings or claims of Jesus

T: in which case, let us have some positive evidence of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or exaggeration (i.e., a saying of Jesus, shown to be misconstrued via contemporary parallels with differing meanings

Turkel seems not to realize that in the absence of an argument that misinterpretation, misunderstanding, exaggeration, and selective forgetting could not have happened, we simply cannot assume that the red words in the gospels were the precise words that the Nazarene carpenter actually uttered.

H: Turkel has not demonstrated that if these recorded sayings were not true then no human could have done anything that could later lead to these recordings

T:--this is merely an illicit shifting of the burden; it is the critic's burden to explain how this could have come about

Turkel again ignores my point that for the Trilemma[#] to be a valid argument, he has to rule out the other possibilities. If he doesn’t rule them out, then the Trilemma is not valid, and we are back to figuring out which possibility (lord? delusional faith-healer?) is the most likely. Turkel just doesn’t grasp the fact that the Trilemma is a claim to have won the debate, and that the Trilemma’s failure to win the debate doesn’t therefore imply that Jesus could not have been Lord. It’s failure only implies that it’s not the case that Jesus must have been Lord. The debate-ending ambitiousness of the Trilemma is precisely what puts such a heavy burden on Turkel, a burden he seems unable or unwilling to bear.

Trilemma Validity

T: It is wrong to say that "the burden of proof does not fall completely on any one side"--it falls not completely, no, but very heavily on the critic claiming doubt.

Turkel again fails to grasp an elementary point of logic. The Trilemma[#] argument of

(A or B or C) & (not-A) & (not-B) => C

is simply not logically valid if one does not actually demonstrate (not-A) and (not-B). It does not suffice to say that neither A nor B have been proved; one has to show they are false. This is Logic 101, and I defy Turkel to quote the previous two sentences in their entirety and then disagree with them.

T: That [certain doubts of gospel authenticity that Turkel does not address] are, as our critic says, "especially significant for the case at hand" does not make them any less a case of creating a root upon which to spin whatever theory suits one's purposes

Thus Turkel offers no substantive defense of his implication that the accuracy of the Gospel accounts is no different from that of “any historical record,” despite their extraordinary differences in identity of authorship, first-handedness, identification of sources, contemporaneousness to the events, author motivation, and extraordinariness of claims.

T: all the while not meeting the burden of proof as the contrary claimant.

Turkel yet again fails to grasp the logic of the Trilemma[#] and its burden on him to show (and not just assume) that non-Lord alternatives are false.

T: in the latest reply my comments here are merely dismissed with such comments as "wishful thinking"--quite a hypocritical comment from one who has yet to provide a valid example of any of the above

What Turkel’s readers of course cannot see [#lose] is what the unedited text of my responses actually contains: a clause-by-clause refutation of any substantive counter arguments Turkel offers toward me, and a fully-quoting diagnosis of each of his many insubstantive ad hominem generalities and strawman histrionics. If Turkel thinks I have not rebutted the substance of any sentence in his “comments here,” I defy him to identify it. My readers can match his sentences one-to-one with my rebuttals of their substance or diagnoses of their insubstantiality, and all of Turkel’s impotent claims to the contrary cannot change this fact.

T: claiming that I am "unwilling to deal with" his alleged case for Jesus as a moderately deluded faith-healer and that he thinks I haven't done the job. I may as well be unwilling to deal with the case for Jesus making a trip to India as a child or being a former sandal salesman, for in spite of our critic's one-phrase dismissals, his portrait is about as clear as graffitti [sic] on a restroom wall, and at about the same level of documentation.

All Turkel has done here is add a [#childish] analogy to restroom graffiti, and so the response that he did not dare let his readers see [#lose] becomes even more applicable:

H: Turkel here gives two [now three] obviously worthless analogies, while essentially admitting he is unwilling to deal with what is now a tetralemma: liar, lunatic, lord,--or faith-healer and apocalyptic preacher whose deluded belief in his importance was strengthened in the months leading up to his anticipated execution and was misinterpreted and exaggerated afterwards.

Turkel often dilates on various points of biblical arcana, but when it comes time to actually defend the very core of the Trilemma, he is simply AWOL. He tells his readers of my “one-phrase dismissals” but does not dare let them see[#] my argument (which I repeat here for a third consecutive response, due to Turkel’s evident fear of facing it):

H: The mere existence of this fourth alternative doesn't in itself prove that this alternative is true. But it's unrebutted existence DOES invalidate the trilemma argument, whose validity depends on there being no non-lord options besides liar and lunatic. It may in fact be possible to prove Jesus' lordship through other more-direct arguments, but the Trilemma itself fails to do so if the fourth option is not actually SHOWN to be false. All this means is that the real debate is between "lord" and such a fourth option. The invalidity of the Trilemma doesn't lend any weight to either side of that real debate--it's simply a fact of logic that is inconvenient for those seeking an easier alternative to the real debate.

Again: how ironic that when it comes to this point about the very heart of the Trilemma argument, Turkel the Trilemmist has nothing substantive to say in response.

Standards of Evidence

T: Which Lincoln biographies are touted as the divinely inspired word of a deity?

H: It doesn't matter what they are "touted as"; even treating them as human records is enough, and this is not a case of me not "liking the answer" (whatever that means in this context!) but of making the point that the Gospels deserve treatment at least consistent with any other set of documents, whether our critic likes it or not.

The treatment is entirely consistent. Every document, whether Gospel or Lincoln bio, is treated the same if it contains the same claim of being ” the divinely inspired word of a deity.” Turkel’s analogy collapses due to the inconvenient fact that no Lincoln bio makes this claim.

H: Which Lincoln biographies give contradictory genealogies in trying to demonstrate his royal lineage?

T: Our critic completely omits these last points [recapitulating Miller's excuses], referring only to "laughable contortions" to resolve the matter, and also manages to omit the link to Miller's article.

For anyone who wants to laugh at Miller’s seven pages of contortions for themselves, the article is “Problems in the Genealogies of Jesus.” Now, where is Turkel’s citation of a contorted seven-page explanation for any Lincoln bio’s genealogy? He has no such citation, and so this is yet another point on which his analogy collapses.

H: Which Lincoln biographies give contradictory information for Lincoln's birth year?

T: our critic blanks out the Miller link and replaces it with one from Carrier for the "Barnum victims" in his readership. Dare I say, our critic does not dare provide access to such material?

I did not “blank out” anything; I merely post Turkel’s HTML as text, which automatically loses any underlying hyperlinks. Given that in this essay alone I document Turkel hiding material from his “Barnum victim” readers a total[#] of 56 times, Turkel here is throwing rocks in his own very fragile glass house.

Turkel doesn’t dare let his readers see[#] my Carrier link (which was given in plain text: /library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html) or the quote I gave from it. For Miller’s link, see below.

H: Note that Turkel names not a single Lincoln biography that supports even a hint of controversy regarding Lincoln's birth year.

T: There isn't one in the Gospels, either

The scholar Turkel again misreads [#misrep] my text. I didn’t say there is a birth-year controversy “in the Gospels”; I plainly said that they “support [..] a hint of controversy.” That is why the contents of Miller’s article (available as “On an objection about Luke, Quirinius, and Herods“) are utterly irrelevant; its mere existence proves my point that the Gospel birth-year evidence is contradictory enough to spark controversy.

T: but there is plenty of controversy about Lincoln that can be manufactured about his heritage, his parentage, and his childhood

Seeing that his analogy has been defeated on the issue of birth year, Turkel desperately attempts to change the subject [#retreat].

H: Which Lincoln biographies seem to switch Lincoln's birthplace in a transparent attempt to make Lincoln fulfill a prophecy?

T: if he has a good look at the Lincoln bios, he will see plenty of "glaring contradictions" just as serious and as painful as those alleged in the Gospels [Turkel now adds:] (a challenge which he simply ignores).

Turkel here does not dare let his readers see [#lose] my challenge to “name a single such Lincoln biographical ‘contradiction’ that is ‘just as serious and as painful’ as the ambiguity of Jesus’ birthplace.” Instead he lies and says I “simply ignore[d]” his challenge, apparently thinking I can read his mind about what alleged “glaring contradiction” he is talking about. Thus (and again), his Lincoln bio analogy still fails on the matter of birthplace.

H: Which Lincoln biographies omit events as spectacular and memorable as the resurrection appearances (missing in original Mark), the Easter zombies swarming Jerusalem (only in Mat 27:53), or the Easter darkness "over all the earth" (omitted in John)?

T: [..] on this our critic merely flees into denial, saying since "many" sounds like a "swarm" to him it must have been, never mind that both words are simply vague [6]

Turkel of course does not deny that a “swarm” contains “many” members. And he dares not let his readers see [#lose] me point out that his paragraph does not name a a single Lincoln biography that omits a single Lincoln life event that Turkel would say is in any way comparable to the Gospel events I cited.

Nor does Turkel dare let his readers see [#lose] my summary of his 0-5 loss on the Lincoln bios: “having asked ‘why the Lincoln biographies [..] should be taken as accurate’, [he] identifie[s] not a single one that is comparable to the gospels in any of the five ways I asked about.” It’s not even that the examples he gives are not comparable; he hasn’t even attempted, in two rounds on this subject, to give a single example!

Finally, Turkel does not dare let his readers see[#] my point that “it’s laughable to say that some audiences would not have been impressed by [the Easter zombies miracle], or that miracles so spectacular were consciously downplayed for fear of straining anyone’s credulity.”

H: Nobody is claiming they should not be weighed, considered, compared, or factored. On the contrary, the difference that indeed needs to be weighed/considered/compared/factored is that evangelists want their readers to repent and save themselves from eternal damnation, whereas secular historians at most want to influence their readers' political opinions. It would be absurd to say this difference is insignificant.

T: Insignificant in what way? The subject matters are different, but the bottom line is that each writer had an agenda, and the mere having of an agenda is no test of truth or falsity

I of course never said it was.

T: our critic's assumptions and biases against religious issues aside

Turkel again misrepresents [#misrep] my conclusions as assumptions, even after having been told what different evidence would lead me to different conclusions. By contrast, Turkel hasn’t given us any reason to believe that he himself isn’t “biased against” naturalism.

T: and his inability to differentiate between categories--content versus intent--notwithstanding.

Turkel ignores two obvious facts: (1) An explicit agenda relating to metaphysics and the nature of the universe is much more serious and fundamental than a possible agenda of how human politics should be interpreted; (2) An explicit agenda attempting to establish one’s most important values and goals in life is far more heavy-handed than a possible agenda of how human politics should be interpreted.

H: background plausibility, external objective confirmation, internal consistency, spatiotemporal proximity to the reported events, evidence of contemporary skeptical cross-examination, absence of plausible alternative explanations, etc. All of these factors tend to argue against the complete veracity of the gospel accounts. My book discusses five of these six factors in explicit detail.

T: we are referred to our critic's own book on the subject, which he can send us free to PO Box 112, Clarcona FL 32710-0112 if he thinks it has anything worth reading.

My book is available online at http://humanknowledge.net–a web site to which I’ve included a link in every email and rebuttal to Turkel, and to which Turkel is evidently afraid to refer his readers.

T: Until then I'll consider it no more than the same mumbo-jumbo in book form.

Thus “mumbo-jumbo” [#childish] in Turkel-speak apparently means “arguments against which one has no reply and to which one dares not refer one’s readers”.

T: Here it is said that I don't "dare quote my counter-challenge"--OK, I'm about to, now what?

So now Turkel has to just quote 37 more [#total] of my arguments and his readers will finally have seen both sides of the debate.

H: why it is that the secular scholarly consensus is so univocal on things like the 2-source theory and gospel anonymity?

T: Because most of them merely accept the thesis on the basis of previous works

I already know that they “accept” it; I’m asking why they accept it.

T: and have their own interests, and therefore no recourse to examine the matter [..] afresh. And as it happens, examples of such complacency are rife.

(By ‘recourse’ I assume the scholar Turkel here means something like ‘reason’, ‘impulse’ or ‘motivation’.) Turkel’s explanation of “complacency” and laziness is not plausible, and he does not even attempt to explain why this “complacency” correlates so well with not being a fundamentalist inerrantist Christian. Gospel scholars are doubtless aware of the inerrantist critiques of the 2-source theory and gospel anonymity. If those critiques had merit, a new generation of hotshot contrarian grad students looking to make their names would take up this cause and overturn the consensus.[7]

T: An example? Try Mithraic studies. It took a revolution to shake off Cumont's thesis, and those, including scholars, whose specialty is not Mithraism are still using Cumont, unaware that Mithraic scholarship since Cumont has moved on.

A field of study devoted to an essentially dead religion is hardly comparable to the study of the source documents of the world’s largest and most influential religion.

T: And our critic is apparently unaware that within the ranks of specialists on the subject, Q/Marcan priority is indeed under fire, and that a coterie of secular scholars who examined the subject afresh in the 1970s were not impressed--if he "dares", let the critic address our material on the subject.)

Turkel himself here does not answer or even let his readers see[#] the final part of my challenge: “In how many decades or centuries, if ever, does Turkel anticipate that the secular scholarly consensus will see the light?” The correct answer is of course that the inerrantist position is a dead meme with no hopes of resurrection, and that is a big reason why it is not worth my time. Another big reason is that overturning the two-source theory would not even begin to satisfy the evidentiary requirements I described as necessary to verify Christianity, and thus the issue is irrelevant to the overall Trilemma argument.

T: Our critic fails to quote [Turkel's reference to] oral tradition

Turkel dares not let his readers see[#] my point that his obfuscations about oral tradition “do not in the least support the strawman supposition he made earlier that started this particular discussion: ‘If these claims were invented, why would they be invented?’ My unrebutted answer remains: I never said that Jesus’ belief in his own divinity was an ‘invention’ by the gospel authors or their sources.”

H: If a text were discovered that repeated the gospels' quotes of Jesus but were written during his ministry or by Jesus himself, would Turkel really claim that it gives us no more confidence that we know what Jesus really said?

T: I would claim that it gives us more confidence, yes--but that does not mean that the present confidence is not sufficient in itself.

H: Turkel thus admits that the evidence of Jesus' words is suboptimal.

T: I have admitted no such thing, as anyone who reads with care may discern

Turkel’s fallacy[#] of contradiction is evidenced by his own words, above. “Optimal” means could not be improved, and Turkel admitted that the Gospels could be improved both in terms of contemporaneousness and by having been written by Jesus himself.

T: and our critic has still done no more than throw straw in the air.

Another insubstantive [#childish] Turkel generalization.

Jesus’ Divinity Claims

Turkel then moves on to Jesus’ divinity claims without daring to let his readers see [#lose] his defeat on the issue of whether I “backpedaled”:

H: In floating his strawman argument about divinity "claims being invented", Turkel merely confuses himself and thinks that to make a word-for-word restatement of my position is to "backpedal mightily". Turkel's strawman claim that I charge "invention" is simply not justified by my statement that "we only have the second-hand word of evangelical Christian authors that Jesus fully held this conviction".

Nor can Turkel bear to let his readers see[#] that I answered his earlier demand for “any relevant evidence [..] from the psychological field. I have my Rokeach; where is the reply?” The reply that his readers will likely never see was that he should “investigat[e] the current clinical understanding of schizophrenia and conversion disorders”–neither of which are even mentioned in his Trilemma article’s attempt to rule out any mental illness in Jesus!

H: [Turkel's article] asserts "ontological equality" of Jesus and Wisdom and God, but does not support this assertion with actual gospel quotes that cannot also be interpreted as metaphor.

T: Well, then, where is the proof that such phrases (drawn, as they clearly are, from Wisdom traditions) were ever used metaphorically in the Jewish literature or by anyone else of relevance?

Which “phrase”? Turkel’s essay doesn’t identify a single Gospel quote of Jesus’ actual words that ontologically equates Jesus with “Wisdom.” He only cites two quotes of Jesus, Mat 11:19 and 11:30. The latter does not even mention Wisdom, but simply borrows language (about yokes and burdens) from an OT passage about Wisdom. In the former Jesus is simply making a point that his generation does not appreciate him. Turkel’s conclusion that Jesus thus “associat[ed] himself with Wisdom” is hopelessly vague, and his assertion of “ontological equality” between Jesus and Wisdom is utterly unsupported by any actual words of Jesus.

T: This is still merely hayseed thrown in the air by someone either not competent to, or unwilling to, deal with the texts.

More [#childish] Turkel bluster.

T: We are being asked to ignore clear and direct parallels in favor of some obfuscatory supposition that somewhere, somehow, these phrases, which just happen to match contextually and linguistically with the Wisdom tradition, actually mean something entirely different in a way entirely unattested!

No amount of Turkel’s OT “Wisdom” obfuscations can put the words into Jesus’ mouth that Turkel wishes the gospel “texts” had quoted him saying. (My “supposition” that Jesus only meant what he said and nothing more is hardly “obfuscatory” but rather the opposite: clear and concise. The scholar Turkel still seems not to have access to a dictionary…)

T: an update: I no longer hold that this title was intended to be mysterious. "Son of Man" is clear indication of divinity, at all times it is used by Jesus.[8]

That the “Son of Man” title was initially considered “mysterious” by someone so desperate for Jesus to claim divinity is prima facie evidence that it is no such clear claim. Having already refuted the substance or relevancy of this and eight other of Turkel’s essays, I’ll defer annihilating his update to this essay until Turkel can bring himself to address some fraction of the 79 [#total: 9 +37 +33] instances I’ve identified of him ignoring or misrepresenting my arguments related to this essay.

H: This does not imply that Jesus calling God 'abba' is the same thing as Jesus calling himself God.

T: As we have shown in the article referenced many moons ago, it does indeed equate with asserting ontological equality with God--technically, what we actually argue for, not Jesus = God in one to one correspondence--and our critic has still not replied with anything better than, "No, it doesn't have to!"

Turkel here does nothing more than re-assert his claim, and says zero to rebut my point that the Jews never calling God “abba” does not imply that Jesus doing so is the same thing as Jesus calling himself God.

H: That could simply mean Jesus believed he had new superseding revelation.

T: "could simply mean" is not enough! This needs to be addressed within the proper socio-historial [sic] context, in which the ability to contradict or modify existing revelation from God required, from a human, a "thus sayeth the Lord"--not merely an "I say unto you"!

That Jesus considered his authority greater than any previous human’s is simply not the same thing as Jesus clearly considering himself divine.

T: In the latest edition our critic merely claims, in essence, "Yes, I have done enough, so there!"

Turkel substitutes [#misrep] a childish strawman for my actual argument: that I’ve asserted a prima facie plausible alternative explanation, and that the Trilemma is invalid if any such alternative is not rebutted.

T: Misc. claims--in this category, "Jesus says (Mt 7:21ff) he will be addressed in heaven as "Lord"; Jesus indicated (Mt 11:27) an exclusive father-son relationship with God; Jesus claimed (Mt 9:2) the ability to forgive sins; Jesus affirmed to the high priest that he is the Christ; Jesus said (Mt 23:34) he sends prophets. I would now regard the second as not as strong, but the rest remain [..] our critic has not shown in any sense that these claims are consistent with merely claiming to be a special prophet.

Each one of these passages is consistent with Jesus merely being a uniquely special child of God, and none of them strictly implies that Jesus has ontological equality with God. Turkel yet again misunderstands the criteria for Trilemma[#] validity if he thinks that I need to “show” anything other than prima facie plausibility for my claim.

H: Malina et al.'s conclusion is plainly not warranted by their vague generalities. (Mark 8:27 is simply Jesus being evasive.)

T: Imagine that! Two NT scholars with recognized expertise in social psychology of the ancient world are merely palming off "vague generalities"

Argument from authority. If Turkel claims that Malina et al.’s conclusion is warranted by their vague generalities, he should justify his claim. If Turkel claims that they have some other convincing arguments derived from their “expertise in social psychology of the ancient world,” he should cite those arguments. Reciting someone’s credentials does not lend credibility to an argument that on its face does not support its own conclusion.

T: and no, Jesus isn't a man of his world, but is committing a 21st-century tactical evasion!

It would be ludicrous to claim that evasiveness was impossible in the ancient world.

H: It's ludicrous to claim that delusions were impossible in the ancient world.

T: This is not what is said; what is said is that delusions would not take the form, nor have the reaction, nor develop in the way our critic requires for his thesis, in the ancient world.

No, Turkel’s claim was a blanket statement about the entire “ancient world”:

T: The ancient world was not individualistic, but group-oriented. Malina and Neyrey explain in Portraits of Paul that group-oriented persons:

...rely on others to tell them who they are ("Who do people say that I am?" Mark 8:27). Consequently, from this perspective, modern questions of "consciousness" (did Jesus know he was God? did Jesus have faith?...) make no sense. For such questions are posited with the freight of the individualistically oriented persons in mind, and not in terms of the group-oriented persons of antiquity, who depend on others to tell them who they are, what is expected of them, and where they fit.

It’s laughable to claim that the single quote of Mark 8:27 demonstrates that Jesus was so “group-oriented” and non-individualistic that he could never have a sincere but false belief.

H: That Jesus' delusions were mutually reinforcing with the beliefs of his followers does not contradict my thesis. That Jesus could not have been delusional because his culture was 'group-oriented' is simply laughable.

T: You heard it fresh from the latest expert in ancient social psychology, folks. Malina and Neyrey are just prattling in the wind, and our critic knows better than a whole boatload of Malinas and Neyreys. Trust him, it's laughable!

Turkel blatantly argues from authority, then pretends that I am doing the same (“trust him”) when in fact I claim it’s obvious (to anyone, not just me) that the ancients could be just as delusional as we moderns. I defy Turkel to cite a psychology reference work saying that the ancients could not have the sort of sincere but false beliefs that we would classify as delusional.[9]

T: And don't even bother to explain how that square peg of reinforcement fits into that round hole of a thesis, how such a social shebang so contrary to deeply ingrained contemporary social and religious values (to say nothing of the purity taboos that would be enforced around a delusional Jesus) managed to survive and grow

Turkel here presents a wonderful little case study in obfuscation. If there’s an argument somewhere in here that Jesus could not have been delusional, I can’t find it.

T: But is this any surprise? Our critic always seeks refuge in such evasions when cornered; if it isn't a dead meme, it's fit to be laughed at, and our man knows it better than anyone trained in the field!

Turkel again offers first obfuscation and now generalizing [#childish] bluster in place of actual argument. Rather than rebut the prima facie laughability of the claim he cites, he instead pretends [#misrep] I’m claiming to know what’s laughable “better than anyone trained in the field.” Indeed, Turkel doesn’t even quote Malina and Neyrey as saying unambiguously that an ancient like Jesus could not ever have had a sincere but false belief, so it’s not even clear that Malina and Neyrey agree with Turkel and not with me.

H: It's simply not the case that followers of deluded people always act rationally and skeptically.

T: But they do act as their society dictates, and the ancient group orientation and other social factors cannot be evaded by simply snuffling, "They were just stupid and different than everyone else."

Yet another Turkel strawman [#misrep]. I of course do not claim that everyone who was not a follower of Jesus always acted rationally and skeptically.

T: The group orientation meant that anyone "hanging with" a deluded Jesus would have been socially pressured to leave his company.

It’s simply not the case that “social pressure” can be guaranteed to prevent deluded people from having any followers. Of course, Turkel here simply ignores the fact that the Gospels report that Jesus and his followers were indeed under various “social pressures.”

T: in this society, again, the ritual uncleanness of mental illness--associated especially as it was with demonic powers--would have driven away anyone that wasn't fast asleep!

It’s ludicrous to claim that ancient attitudes about “the ritual uncleanness of mental illness” could have guaranteed that anyone with followers was certifiably free from delusion.

T: As usual our critic merely throws uninformed generalities in the air with the assumption that the ancient world was no different than the one down the road in his local grocery store.

More [#childish] Turkel bluster, followed by a feeble strawman [#misrep] about grocery stores.

T: Our critic [..] offer[s] the thesis that the distance into the sea described is one of those "exaggerations" to be taken out of the pot and designated as such when convenient.

Turkel here pretends [#misrep] that water-walking isn’t the very first Gospel episode that I’ve identified in our debate as an “exaggeration,” when in fact it is. If Turkel knows of other episodes that I’ve described to him as “exaggerations,” I defy him to quote me doing so.

Turkel of course does not let his readers see his defeat [#lose] on denying the exaggeration:

H: Turkel tries to show that the text is not exaggerated by--wait for it--quoting from the text itself! This again demonstrates Turkel's clumsiness with the contextual subtleties that are so critical to good scholarship. Episodes like this are no doubt the reason why Turkel is too chicken to give his readers any way to see my undoctored writings in this debate.

And Turkel here again slinks away from acknowledging his defeat [#lose] on the issue of whether he begged the question (in our earlier discussion of Jesus’ divinity belief) by citing “walking on water, which the OT says that only God can do.” He evidently wants us to forget that he argued that Jesus should have known from his miraculous powers that he was divine.

T: As predicted, the thesis is altered and tweaked as needed to make the whole machine continue to work.

Another bizarre instance [#!win] of Turkel’s notion that a successful defense (“continue to work”) of my thesis is somehow a victory for him.

T: there is nothing "confusing" (real quote) about the Trinity, or about the dual nature, except to uneducated skeptics. (Our critic calls this an "[a]rgument by (laughable) assertion" but naturally this is the sum and total of his answer)

If the scholar Turkel claims that the notion of the Trinity has not been a source of confusion and contention among Christians (as opposed to just “uneducated skeptics”), then he is laughably ignorant. (Odds that he will dare let his readers see the entirety of the previous sentence: 0.1%.)

T: I have said nothing about a "clear claim"; I have referred to a direct claim (which in this context is indeed different from a "clear" claim as it is both clear and strong)

Turkel does not let his readers see[#] my denial that I quoted ‘clear’ as Turkel’s word, giving further evidence of his lack of scholarly concern with proper quotation. Turkel scrambles to invent a distinction between ‘clear’ and ‘direct’, claiming that ‘direct’ implies ‘strong’ but ‘clear’ does not. Unfortunately for Turkel, Webster’s defines ‘clear’ as “unmistakable; unqualified; absolute” and ‘direct’ as “immediate,” and no support is evident for Turkel’s distinction.

T: and as shown in the item on Wisdom (which our critic has no answer for...)

Demonstrably false. Turkel above even quotes part of my answer, in which I made an (unanswered) challenge for Gospel Wisdom quotes that cannot be interpreted as metaphor. Turkel did not dare let his readers see[#] the rest of my answer: “The best of these is John writing that ‘the Word was made flesh’–a very pretty metaphor, but simply not evidence that Jesus claimed to be an omnipotent deity. The article also quotes Paul, but it can’t quote Paul quoting Jesus, since Paul never met Jesus.”

H: Nothing in Turkel's Wisdom item demonstrates that it would have been 'technically inaccurate and imprecise' for Jesus to say at least one of [list of claims]

T: Note well, as our critic has not, that I have only said that one particular claim--"I am God!"--would be technically inaccurate and imprecise

Demonstrably false. Turkel’s essay still says, two sentences earlier: “a claim like ‘I am God!’ would have been technically inaccurate and imprecise.” Turkel’s phrase “a claim like” means that his statement applies to other similar claims, and not just “that one particular claim.”

T: In identifyting [sic] himself as Wisdom, Jesus did claim, in one package, to be, as our critic complains, "divine ... omniscient and omnipotent (which in the Wisdom context means, having access to all power and knowledge via direct relationship with God; Wisdom was always, as Jesus was, functionally subordinate to the Father) .. ontologically equal to God ... God incarnate (more properly, God's Wisdom incarnate) ... El/Yahweh made flesh" (though as these were titles of the Father, actually not usable in this context). Our critic has no way around these clear divine claims

The only “clear” claims here are Turkel’s, not Jesus’. The claims I proposed were

  • I am divine.
  • I am omniscient and omnipotent.
  • I am ontologically equal to God.
  • I am God incarnate.
  • I am El/Yahweh made flesh.

The obfuscating Turkel does not deny that Jesus never said any of these, or indeed any other similar “I am ..” statement. Yet Turkel baldly pretends he has identified “these clear divine claims,” when in fact not a single such “I am ..” claim has been quoted. I defy Turkel to complete this sentence: “Jesus made a clear ‘I am Y’ claim to divinity in Gospel verse X,” where Y is an actual reference to God or divinity, and not merely some loose association with some vague phraseology that Turkel’s tortured exegesis claims to demonstrate is not an association but rather an actual identification. The simple fact is that Turkel can name no such gospel verse.

T: despite his best efforts to rob them of meaning or take them from their source.

Turkel’s claim is ridiculous. The Gospel “sources” only quote Jesus uttering the word “wisdom” four times:

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’. But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Mat 11:19, Luk 7:35

“The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.” Mat 12:42, Luk 11:31

“God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.'” Luk 11:49

“For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luk 21:15

None of these even approaches a clear or direct claim to divinity. If even one of them were a clear or direct divinity claim, then Turkel would hardly need a nine-page essay to prove it to be such.

T: one finds a lesser variety of Christological titles in the works of Paul and the rest of the NT

H: Lesser in variety, and no doubt more consistent in claiming Jesus' divinity. This is precisely what my thesis would predict.

T: No doubt more consistent? Try again: The Wisdom factor is the same across the board

Try again: the Gospels never quote Jesus calling himself “the power of God and the wisdom of God,” as Paul says Jesus is in 1 Cor. 1:24.

T: the Son of Man title is not used

As my thesis would predict, since (as Turkel originally admitted) it is vague as to divinity.

T: the sonship language is used across the board

And such language neither necessarily constitutes, nor rules out, a claim to divinity.

T: and bottom line, the thesis is under the wrecking ball yet again.

So sonship is similar, the Wisdom/Power language is much more direct, and the vague Son of Man is not used. Bottom line: less variety, more consistency, just as I predicted, and contrary to Turkel’s impotent “wrecking ball” bluster.

T: [our critic] finds it easy to speak as though Peter should have stood firm and takes his failure as evidence of guilt and trauma which inspired their faith

Plausible theses are indeed usually “easy to speak.”

T: (which fails as well on the grounds that no one was expecting a resurrection)!

They should have, if they indeed witnessed Jesus’ alleged miracles, believed his alleged “direct” divinity claims, and heard him say at least four times (Mat 16:21, 17:23, 20:19; Luk 9:22, 18:33, 24:7, 24:46) that he would “rise from the dead” or be “raised to life” “on the third day.” Turkel’s linked essay in fact merely claims that Jesus’ followers didn’t know his third-day “raising” would be bodily, but this is irrelevant to my point: if they really had seen him claim and demonstrate divinity, they should not have abandoned him while his omniscient predictions were still all coming true.

T: Let's put our critic before the Roman gallows with a spear in his left nostril--I doubt if he'll do any better!

Turkel here unwittingly reinforces my point: I indeed would do no better, because I–like they–have not had my salvation guaranteed by someone I’ve personally witnessed as clearly claiming and demonstrating divinity.

T: On my matter of Jesus quoting Ps. 22, and thereby alluding to the whole of it, including the triumphant ending, our critic [..] merely repeats yet again in the latest response in different words, suggesting merely convenient re-interpretation on our part, and "maybe Jesus used it in an entirely different way than the meaning that was otherwise universally known and accepted"

Turkel here debates against a strawman argument [#misrep] and dresses it in quotation marks as if I might have acceded to the ridiculous claim that it was “universally known” that any utterance of “why have you abandoned me?” is in fact a proclamation of triumph. Turkel here dares not let his readers see[#] my actual argument: “it’s silly to claim that the crucified Jesus would necessarily have been unable to use in its literal sense any phrase that begins a Psalm (or perhaps any phrase from the entire Old Testament!).”

T: what on earth he did say that could have been mistakenly remembered as the distinctive first line of Ps. 22.

H: The answer is obviously: anything else indicating despair at abandonment or betrayal.

T: Oh, really? Find us a contemporary expression of despair at abandonemnt [sic] /betrayal with enough linguistic/structural features similar to the first line of Ps. 22

My point was clearly that Jesus might have said something with similar meaning to Ps 22:1 but with different words. Is Turkel now going to expand his claim to say that nobody who had ever heard Ps 22 could have possibly used any synonym of ‘abandon’ in its literal sense? What other simple phrases does Turkel think cannot have ever been used literally due to their appearance in Psalms? Is this (conveniently) the only one, or does he have a list?

T: as it is, just throwing "anything else" in the air is an admission that the critic has no actual answer

If he thinks that my “anything else” cannot trivially be expanded to a myriad of options, then the scholar Turkel betrays an unfamiliarity with not only dictionaries but thesauri. Here is but a sample of phrases that the dying Nazarene carpenter might actually have said and that are “[some]thing else indicating despair at abandonment or betrayal”:

  • Why have you rejected me?
  • Why have you renounced me?
  • Why do you not save me?
  • Why have you betrayed me?
  • Why do you not rescue me?
  • Why did you let me come to this?
  • Why have you left me alone here?
  • Why have you cast me aside?
  • Why do you not defend me?
  • Why have you disowned me?
  • Why do you not deliver me?

On the issue of Lazarus, Turkel does not dare let the readers of his essay see[#] that its charge of “circular reasoning” has been annihilated: “[Turkel] calls my naturalistic explanation ‘circular reasoning’ simply because it encompasses all of the relevant evidence. Consistency is not the same thing as circularity.”

T: there is no evidence that such fantastic claims were never disputed

H: Christianity took decades and centuries to become a significant force, and so not many people would have cared until the evidence was gone.

T: This is simply irrelevant

It’s ludicrous to say that the passage of decades and centuries is irrelevant to whether reports of an event can be convincingly disputed.

T: ("significant" in what way, and to what effect?)

(Like a student called to answer a question he doesn’t know, Turkel just stalls for time.) Obviously: “significant” enough that enough people would have cared enough to “dispute” Christianity’s “fantastic claims.” (OK, next evasion?)

T: and in the latter case, absolutely false, merely an uncritical acceptance of Carrier

Turkel hallucinates [#misrep] that I cited Carrier on what is actually an elementary fact of history.

T: see here factor 13, for a response. [which says] In a society where nothing escaped notice, there was indeed every reason to suppose that people hearing the Gospel message would check against the facts

Turkel ignores the obvious point that if someone in Jerusalem six months after the crucifixion satisfies himself that the resurrection story is not credible, that investigation could easily be of little use to someone hearing the resurrection story decades later and perhaps hundreds of miles away. The Jesus movement had every reason to compose and preserve their Gospels and epistles; does Turkel think that an Anti-Jesus Movement arose in parallel to preserve skeptical findings?

H: The Christian side of the story had a better chance of being preserved than the anti-Christian side.

T: In substance and value this is no better than Acharya S with her wild fantasies of suppressed and destroyed documents and an immensely begged question.

Turkel here offers a feeble (non-)refutation by association, and dares not actually assert that the anti-Christian side of the story had an equal chance of being preserved.

T: Moreover, we have ample amounts of material telling the non-Christian side of the story

I defy Turkel to present any (let alone an “ample”) amount of anti-Christian material that is contemporaneous with people who would have been resurrection eyewitnesses. The earliest anti-Christian writings I’ve heard of are described at . Of these, none are dated to the first century, and two (Toledoth Yeshu and the Jewish slander reported by Tertullian) indeed claim the empty tomb was faked, just as my theory would predict.

T: our critic however will merely do as done above and assume that the opponents weren't of good enough caliber to do the job.

I said nothing about the opponents’ “caliber”; I rather said that not enough people would have cared until the evidence was gone. Unable to handle my actual argument, Turkel substitutes a flimsy strawman [#misrep].

H: Nevertheless, Matthew 28 DOES report (and of course denies) a widespread story that the empty tomb was faked.

T: It does, and how does this help our critic?

Obviously, by directly contradicting Turkel’s claim that “there is no evidence that such fantastic claims [as Lazarus’ resurrection] were never disputed.” (Turkel obviously meant “ever disputed,” but double negation apparently taxes his grasp of elementary logic. 馃檪

T: It doesn't--we would expect some explanation to emerge; that resort was made to a ludicrous "stolen body" line merely shows that, as often comes from critics, they had no better explanation to offer than one that was manifestly absurd on its face.

Turkel baldly and inexplicably asserts that the stolen-body theory is “ludicrous,” “manifestly absurd on its face,” and doesn’t count as an “explanation.” If he can assert this with a straight face, one wonders why he bothers debating this subject at all, since it’s hard to imagine how even most Christians would agree with this ridiculous assessment. It’s more likely that Turkel saw he was near the end of a 33-page essay that almost no visitor to his web site would be reading, and so he just wilted under the weight of my arguments and couldn’t bring himself to attempt an actual rebuttal.

H: If we believed in 'trained sorcerers', we wouldn't necessarily be interested in disproving the alleged miracles of an alleged sorcerer.

T: Yes we would, because in disproving the miracles, we disprove the person's capacity as a sorceror [sic]![10]

Turkel here misses the obvious point that people who disbelieve in sorcery are more likely to be skeptical that someone is a sorcerer than people who do not disbelieve in sorcery.

T: there is now as much superstition and ignorance as there was in ancient times [..] and it is not merely a matter of lack of info as our critic claims, for there was no lack of information concerning the possibility of naturalism.

There was indeed a huge lack of information concerning the probability of naturalism: namely, (1) the lack before Darwin of any naturalistic explanation for all the apparent design in the biological world, and (2) the lack before neuroscience of any naturalistic explanation for the universe’s most complex known phenomenon: the human mind.[11]

T: He is equating ignorance with stupidity, and tarring the ancients with that brush, and then trying to fudge by separating the two and claiming he's only criticizing for one but not the other.

After I tell him he mistakenly calls it “backpedal[ing]” to deny his misrepresentation of my position, Turkel merely repeats his misrepresentation [#misrep] and repeats his claim that to deny his misrepresentation is to “fudge.” He does not dare let his readers see[#] the text of my charge that

H: he is trying to equate "ignorance"--i.e. not having certain information--with something like congenital stupidity, in vain effort to justify his ad hominem attack on me as a "bigot"

and instead absurdly claims that I am the one “equating ignorance with stupidity”! The equating is only in Turkel’s mind, as he goes on to show:

T: That just won't work. The relationship between knowledge and critical capacity is non-severable.

The latter statement is laughable. There is no evidence that humans of any era have had any differences in critical capacity,[12] but it is simply undeniable that knowledge is cumulative and that later humans have access to more of it than earlier humans did. Of course, the inerrantist Turkel seems not to believe in modern biology or modern cosmology or perhaps even in Copernican heliocentrism, so we should not be surprised if he thinks that knowledge has been static for the last 2000 years! If he’s interested in educating himself as to what humanity currently knows, he should read my book Human Knowledge.

H: Turkel here contradicts himself, by noting that the ancients were credulous about people (not just Jesus) being 'trained sorcerers', and then asserting the ancients 'were no more ready to accept wild claims than we are'.

T: I have shown no such inconsistency; our critic has merely begged the question again--this time against sorcery!

Turkel can only be consistent here if he is willing to say that a modern claim that someone is a “trained sorcerer” is not a “wild” claim. Does the creationist Turkel also believe that sorcery can be trained? Does he think Harry Potter is a documentary?

Turkel does not dare let his readers see[#] my annihilation of his claim that “there is now as much superstition and ignorance as there was in ancient times.” I wrote:

H: Turkel's claim about ignorance and superstition can be demonstrated as false merely by citing the major phenomena that the ancients believed were supernaturally caused:

  • the daily cycle of the Sun; the motions of the Moon and planets;
  • the seasons; rivers, currents, winds, thunder, lightning, precipitation and drought;
  • the genesis, design, and diversity of life; success in farming and hunting;
  • the human mind; evil, misfortune, disease, pestilence, war, and death.

Of course, Turkel is at something of a disadvantage here, as he presumably still believes that some of the above are supernaturally caused.

Missing Evidence for Christianity

On this topic, Turkel runs out of steam and does not even respond to (or let his readers see[#]) my point that

H: 1) The lack of reference in Paul's letters (c. 58CE) to the gospels, and their allusions to Rome's fall in 70CE, date them to decades after the events. 2) The gospels are generally considered anonymous, and even apologists admit that only two could have been first-hand. 3) Unlike e.g. Caesar, Jesus himself left no known writings.

Turkel asserts:

T: "describe a Jesus able to work hometown miracles"--see above, it is not an issue of not being able to do them with reference to ability

As demonstrated to Turkel above in my lesson about elementary logic, it most certainly is an issue of ability.

T: "describe a Jesus whose family never thought him 'mad', and who were his most ardent believers instead of the object of his apparent resentment"--well, that's what they became after the resurrection, what more does this man want?!?

Turkel dares not let his readers see[#] my devastating rejoinder: “Turkel here seems unable to read. I wrote precisely what I ‘want’: ‘a Jesus whose family never thought him ‘mad’ etc.'”

T: "describe a Jesus more self-differentiated from the primitive tribal deity of the Hebrew Torah"--[..] a begged question concerning, now, the Old Testament? (We are told to read the critic's book again, if we "dare"--again, send a free copy, and we will.)

Turkel does not dare let his readers see[#] my points that

H: Turkel mistakenly assumes that a NEW question counts as a "begged" question. [..] overwhelmingly more Christians take the gospels literally than take the Torah literally.

My book is available online at http://humanknowledge.net–a website to which I’ve included a link in every email and rebuttal to Turkel, and to which Turkel is evidently afraid to refer his readers.

T: (Our critic also failed to answer a reply sent to him, making the point that a person could no more be "99% sinless" that one could be "99% pregnant".)

Turkel’s disposable one-line “reply” can hardly be said to merit an “answer,” but for the record I demolish this puny point and reiterate my unrebutted argument in a separate posting, available on Usenet under “Best Argument for Justness of Hell.” Will Turkel’s “encyclopedia” entry on Hell ever address my arguments? Don’t hold your breath.

Turkel also doesn’t dare let his readers see[#] my point that “the gospel accounts could portray a Jesus/Yahweh/El who is not so petulantly defensive about his anemic inability to provide convincing evidence of his existence,” and goes on to write:

T: Our critic points to "supernatural patterns [in cosmological or quantum phenomena] or ongoing miracles [such as prophecy or communication with a spirit world]"--apparently he is unaware of the existence of people who would more readily attribute such signs to aliens than to Jesus

Turkel is “apparently unaware” of enough basic science to know that scientists would readily explain to such people that no alien technology could possibly (1) re-arrange galaxies at opposite ends of the observable universe (thus violating relativity, momentum and mass-energy conservation, etc.), or (2) eliminate the randomness from quantum phenomena (thus violating the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the laws of thermodynamics, etc.).

T: conceptually, this entire argument is refuted in detail here.

Turkel offers up yet another essay as a (ninth!) sacrificial lamb. The slaughter is relatively easy, as the essays says

T: others around the world have time to fill the omen with their own meaning which they may be hard-pressed to give up when missionaries arrive to fill in the details.

This of course would not be an issue for a message with layers, as has long been envisioned by SETI researchers–and as would be obvious to an omniscient deity. If Turkel is unfamiliar with the discipline called anticryptography (making messages that decode themselves), he can always rent the movie Contact to see a Turkel-understandable example.

T: What of blind people? Why should they believe such a message is written on the moon [..]?

Turkel’s question is utterly specious. The only blind people who would not believe a cosmological message are those who would refuse to believe any astronomy or cosmology whatsoever.

T: how would one convert in turn the man who thinks that "Jesus Lives" because he was raised by space aliens?

A total non-issue for the kind of layered, detailed message that an omniscient omnipotent deity could create (but that Turkel apparently cannot even begin to imagine).

T: the complaint is misplaced to begin with, under the paradigm that being a member of the body of Christ is not merely a process that starts and stops at conversion but continues throughout life with the process of discipleship and fellowship

Turkel here simply and blatantly dodges the issue of evidence.

T: these suggestions would compel a "forced" choice rather than one made freely

This Divine Shyness argument is of course is the saddest argument of theists. I suspect it is quite modern, and that historians will say that it marked the beginning of the end of philosophical theism. The presumably recent vintage of this argument shows that theists have lost much of their confidence in their position since roughly a millennium ago, when they believed they had multiple independent philosophical arguments that absolutely proved God’s existence.

The Divine Shyness argument is refuted by Christianity’s own texts. El/Yahweh had no compunction about “forcing” belief with all his Old Testament miracles (that were so petulantly primitive and so obviously constrained by ancient pre-scientific imagination). Jesus similarly had no compunction about “forcing” belief with his New Testament miracles (which, happening during a time with far better historical records, were not coincidentally much more modest than the OT’s miracles).

Apologists cannot have it both ways. Either first-hand witness of miracles is a “forcing” of belief, or it is a non-forcing level of evidence whose denial to the rest of us is immoral (given the punishment for non-belief).

T: We are also repeatedly told from skeptical circles that one could not possibly worship a "monster" like the Biblical God of the OT. Now if that is so, are Blue Fairies any help at all?

Turkel here misses the obvious point, already explained to him by me under this very heading of “Missing Evidence,” that the requisite evidence would indeed include a disavowal of the incriminating parts of the Torah.

T: The Christian paradigm does have a "Blue Fairy"--the Holy Spirit. [The] "best case" scenario is fulfilled already. We are left with that non-believers must simply deny that the Spirit is convicting them

So Turkel’s candidate for the best possible objective, scientific evidence for Christianity is–wait for it!–the “Holy Spirit”! To ask for better evidence is to “simply deny that the Spirit is convicting” me. Hilarious!

T: One may as well suggest that there would have been no concern had there been infertility suffered by the parents of Martin Luther King, Ludwig van Beethoven, or Karl Marx. (The matter here is not an issue of appealing to the vanity of a local tribal deity, but of instigating an event whose effects play out on a vaster scale, something our critic still can't comprehend...

Turkel here obfuscates instead of daring to let his readers see[#] my point that his “reasoning here is circular. These figures were important WITHOUT” any fertility issues, whereas such issues were the alleged instigator of Abraham’s importance.

T: and is unlikely to, as he is too ingrained in bigotry [i.e., male circumcision, a rite of passage in many cultures who consider it important, is no more than "a cynical appeal to the sick fetish of the local tribal deity"] to do so.)

Turkel again spews his ad hominem [#childish] charge of “bigotry,” apparently unaware that slavery too had “many cultures who consider it important.” Would Turkel call it “bigotry” to condemn slavery, or female clitoral mutilation in Africa, or binding women’s feet in China, or burning widows alive in India?

T: the evidence is more than sufficient as it stands [..] the problem is not just one of the head, but also the heart--and that is why more people aren't believers, and some fewer are inerrantists!

If “the evidence is more than sufficient,” and “the Holy Spirit” is busy “convict[ing] persons of the truth,” then presumably either Satan is actively corrupting all the non-believers’ “hearts,” or God created man’s “heart” with an inadequate Spirit receptivity (and then bungled the ‘recall’ attempted via The Flood). This sort of conspiracy-think and anti-humanism is of course necessary for being a fundamentalist Christian…

H: The point Turkel misses here is that the gospels shouldn't need convoluted essays to try to obfuscate or explain away their internal prima facie inconsistencies.

T: The Gospels don't need the essays; it is the uninformed and bigoted critic that needs them to cure themselves of reading the Bible like it was a newspaper.

Turkel again spews [#childish] insults and then seemingly admits that the Gospels are not even as inerrant as a fallible human newspaper.

T: Central and simple facts like Jesus dying at Jerusalem offer no margin of viable expression, unlike a complex chain of events such as involved the resurrection narratives, which are also, unlike a simple fact-statement, subject to the limitations of such constraints as writing space, audience interest, and authroial [sic] purpose; our critic is comparing apples and oranges yet again!

Turkel prattles about “apples and oranges,” but doesn’t dare let his readers see[#] the other “apples” that I compared to the “apple” of the locus of Jesus’ crucifixion: Jesus’ genealogy (i.e. paternal grandfather’s name), Jesus’ birth city, and the number of years of Jesus’ ministry. Each of these is indeed a “central and simple fact” with no “margin of viable expression,” but the gospels simply botch the job of getting these facts straight.

End of story.

This essay was edited for presentation on the Secular Web by Editor-in-Chief (now emeritus) Richard Carrier. The following notes are his commentary on certain points on which he has knowledge or expertise. The exclusion of material here does not entail endorsement of everything either Turkel or Holtz say above. Rather, these footnotes have been added only when something truly substantive had to be said. Carrier is a degreed expert in ancient Greek and the social history of Greco-Roman science, with a B.A. from Berkeley, an M.A. and M.Phil. from Columbia, and years of specialized experience in Greek language and linguistics.

[1] Editor: Turkel is mistaken. The word (distaz么) can only be rendered “hesitate” in the sense of “doubt whether.” The word alone could mean “they hesitated to worship” as in “they doubted whether to worship,” though that entails they doubted he was worthy of worship, the very interpretation Holtz, and incidentally all Bible translations, give to this passage. But even this is not allowed by the grammar of the text, since “worship” is not here in the infinitive and thus cannot be the object of the other verb. Rather, the verb “to worship” is in the same aorist form as the verb “to doubt,” and that follows a de hoi separator. That means the construction is a parallelism, not a qualification: i.e. “while seeing him, some worshipped him, others doubted him” (not “others hesitated him” which is nonsensical). So Turkel’s argument displays a common incompetence in Greek.

[2] Editor: Turkel probably would “backpedal” as soon as he found out there are such ancient texts. I list several in “How Do We Know He was Dead?” It is another standard behavior of Turkel’s to make sweeping generalizations about the ancient world and ancient sources that are not only baseless, but in fact obviously false to anyone with a knowledge of the period and its literature. He never acknowledges this fact, even when caught with his pants down (and I have seen that happen numerous times). More typically, he erases the remark and conceals any sign of it ever having existed, or pretends never to have read the refutation.

[3] Editor: Of course, Jesus is made to say here not that he was going straightaway to Jerusalem, only that he would end up there (in fact, that he had to die there) after many days of constant travel. And the word here is not “to walk” but “to be conveyed” i.e. to journey, to march, to proceed, to go (poreuesthai), still compatible with urgency, which need not require running (few criminals on the lamb “run” from city to city to hide from the law). The point is that Jesus is saying he has to stay on the move to avoid being killed, just as Holtz argues.

[4] Editor: Here both debators are missing the linguistic facts. The first word is not “green” but “yellow-green” (chl么ros), a word used to describe even sand and egg yolk. The second word is not primarily “grass” but “grazing place” (chortos), used equally for both grass and hay. Thus, the seasonal marker Turkel calls upon is actually nonexistent in the Greek: spaces of yellowing grass would be available year round (it’s what free range animals ate in summer, for example). Experienced researchers will also notice that this produces an elegant poetic phrase rich in alliteration, chl么r么 chort么. The stylistic beauty of such a phrase could have outweighed its historical accuracy anyway. Such features are precisely the sort of colorful details ancient readers gave allowance even to historians to invent.

[5] Editor: Turkel actually says “Let it be stressed here that there is no doubt that there were those who tried to instigate some eschatological sign, and may well have claimed divine power was in the offing from them, but the key words ‘I am Messiah!’ are never recorded…[i.e.] the Messiah as one who was a political or religious leader, but not necessarily divine.” He never quotes O’Neill so I have no idea what he said. But Turkel is engaging in evasive hairsplitting here. I took the reasonable assumption, when I wrote “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?” that a religious leader of Jews claiming special eschatological powers granted by God is a messiah. My words even specified this ambiguity by saying “of one form or another.” It seems dubious to say that, for example, a man calling himself a Jewish “prophet,” leading “multitudes,” and claiming he would miraculously “fell the walls of Jerusalem” and take the city was not claiming to be a messiah “of one form or another” (Jewish Antiquities, 20.167-70; Jewish War, 2.261-4), especially when such men claimed they would liberate Israel with God’s support, the very thing only the messiah was predicted to do (Jewish War, 2.259). However, I will grant that Josephus does not call them “messiahs,” only “imposters” and “prophets.” As a signal example of what Turkel doesn’t do, I concede the verbal point and will add a footnote to this effect, and announce the correction publicly on our What’s New page. Still, the concession is trivial, and as Holtz notes it is an evasion: Holtz quoted me in refutation of Turkel’s claim that: “I have seen no indication that ANY Messianic pretender of the time made the same type of claims.” Passages like those above refute him: here we have messianic (i.e. messiah-like) pretenders claiming incredible things and certain victory, and meeting the same sad end as Jesus. By focussing on an irrelevant verbal quibble, Turkel avoided having to admit Holtz just proved him wrong (not to mention demonstrated his ignorance). There were madmen and deceivers, after all, pretending to messiah-like powers and roles and who commanded large loyal followings. So, per Holtz, we cannot say Jesus couldn’t have been one of them.

[6] Editor: Not as vague as he needs it to be. See Note on the word ‘mass’.

[7] Editor: Turkel’s argument is also refuted by the fact that even prestigious and universally respected believers in academia concede the anonymity of the Gospels, including religious scholars who know more about Bible manuscripts and their history than anyone, like Bruce Metzger, who could never in a million years be called “lazy” or “complacent,” much less the sort of fellow who merely accepts received tradition uncritically or uninformedly (see The Formation of the New Testament Canon).

[8] Editor: All literature to my knowledge on the term “Son of Man” contradicts Turkel’s assertion here. The phrase was routinely used of mortal men, in fact it seems to have been only so used (see, e.g., the Catholic Encyclopedia; Protestant and all other reference works I have ever consulted here agree on this point). The only exceptions are works like Daniel, who uses “like a son of man” in reference to the messiah, not “son of man.” In fact, all the early Church Fathers who remark on the phrase call it a reference to the humanity of Jesus, not his divinity. This is yet another example of how Turkel doesn’t even read the most basic and fundamental references in his field, and then makes assertions exactly opposite the known facts.

[9] Editor: Turkel’s position is worse than this. If he agrees with Malina and Neyrey (and he says he does unequivocally), then it was even easier for a man like Jesus to entertain a false belief in his divinity: it would merely require someone else to tell him he was God. And to that end, any voice from God would surely carry more weight in shoring up his identity than even a group of mortals. And Jesus’ constant asking who he was may have eventually elicited responses that he interpreted as “You are God,” such as soon before his death. The actual encounter that triggered this belief could easily not be recorded in the Gospels, as certainly many important events in Jesus’ life and thought were not. But for what it is worth, as an historian very familiar with the social history of antiquity, I find Malina & Neyrey’s assertion here to be an implausible sweeping generalization filled with latent absurdities. Anyone who says, as they seem to be quoted as saying here, that ancient people didn’t have beliefs about themselves, can certainly be dismissed as crackpot. I can only hope that Turkel is quoting them out of context or omitting important qualifications in their arguments and evidence. How, for instance, do they explain Paul’s insistence that he spoke to no man during or after he came to believe he was chosen by God in a direct revelation, if Paul could not come to any such belief without a group assigning it to him first? There are numerous cases of private, even idiosyncratic, religious convictions in ancient literature just like that. Indeed, what are we to make of Socrates’ assertion, well praised and repeated in antiquity, that the self-examined life is not worth living? He did not say the group-examined life is not worth living … I think it more likely that Turkel is misrepresenting Malina & Neyrey than that Malina & Neyrey have ignored all this evidence and developed a demonstrably false thesis. At any rate, contrary to how Turkel uses the idea of “groupthink,” there were tremendous social pressures against becoming a Cynic or a worshipper of Attis, even an Epicurean, yet many flocked to these movements all the same.

[10] Editor: As an author of several pieces for the Skeptical Inquirer, I think I can note that Turkel is refuted here by obvious contemporary examples: the popularity of astrology and psychic powers, and popular support for astrologers and psychics and spirit mediums, with little effort at skepticism or investigation. To the contrary, believers reject any request for even the simplest tests and controls as a hostile attack, rather than as a useful way to confirm authority for the miracle worker. The same can be said of modern gurus and faith healers, e.g., no one but the Indian Rationalists have ever done anything to challenge the claims of local gurus there, and if it weren’t for rationalists in America, no one would ever have known of the fakery of a Popov, a Geller, or a Hinn. Instead, believers in these men won’t be bothered with using any of the tools or methods of skepticism. They just believe.

[11] Editor: This is partly incorrect: both theories (roughly speaking) existed in antiquity, they simply had no (or at least little) empirical evidence until modern times. I have in mind the natural selection theory advanced by several presocratics and developed by Epicurus and Lucretius (among several other lost authors); and the neurophysical theories of Aristotle and Epicurus, given backing in medical research by Erasistratus and still other authors no longer extant. Even Galen argued in part (though he was not convinced), drawing on some empirical evidence, for the general notion that the mind was a physical function of brain tissue, and inseparable therefrom. This does not greatly affect Holtz’s point: compared to today, argument and evidence for naturalism in antiquity was not only vastly weaker, it was truly accessible only to the literate, and fully comprehendable only by the well-educated and well-read, and largely despised as elitist rhetoric by the masses.

[12] Editor: Actually, there is evidence of this. I am not committed to the claim, and cannot recall the sources here, but I will relate this by way of caution and call for others to research it: I have read in the literature that an undeniable and significant increase in average IQ has occurred steadily in the Western Industrialized world over the past century. (see F. Heylighen, “Increasing intelligence: the Flynn effect” (2000) and Jonathan Plucker, ed., “The Flynn Effect” (1998)). If this is due to improved social, educational, nutritional, and health conditions, and other effects of the Industrial and Scientific Revolution–and this seems most likely, if not the only plausible explanation–then it follows that the average IQ of ancient peoples was significantly lower than today (I would say, from what I have read, by at least 10 points, meaning the average person then could be regarded as “dull” by today’s standards, cf. IQ Basics). Given the poor nutritional and educational conditions of the time, and other obvious differences, I think this is plausible. However, lack of education would be far more devastating to a critical intellect than a mere IQ of 90, which is certainly not ‘stupid’, and of course we are only talking about averages: there would still have been many bright people, some even of genius level intelligence (surely Galen, Ptolemy and Archimedes were such, and I dare say Clement, Origen, and Augustine as well). But I don’t claim to know this to be a well-established fact. Rather, it is something to think about and look into further.

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