Harry McCall Objects to My Rejection of Mythicism, Says I “Hate” Him

jesus walking dead

The real Jesus (from The Walking Dead)

Over the weekend, Harry McCall, an acquaintance of mine, took to Facebook to let his friends know what kind of person he thought I was. He was doubly upset that yet another atheist had unfriended him on Facebook. Here’s what McCall posted to his Facebook wall:

Oddly, I find Atheists, especially those who were former Christian pastors, to be very thin skinned to criticism about their belief system. Thus far, I have had four Atheists, all of whom were either former conservative or Fundamentalist pastors Defriend me on Facebook with almost all of them expressing hatred towards me in doing so (I am not an Atheist and never was).

The latest self proclaimed Atheist to Defriend me (just tonight) is a former Fundamentalist Baptist pastor of 25 years, 62 year old Bruce Gerencser (pictured). The fact that most of my friends on Facebook are Christians with whom I have discussed my studies on the Bible and Christianity, and who have not defriended me points to the fact that they, unlike these former pastors turned Atheist, are at peace and happy with their belief system just as I am with my spiritual religious belief system.

Thus, if you are a former Christian pastor turned Atheist, don’t look for support and sympathy from me as I’m tired of being cursed at before being Defriended.

So long Bruce. I hope you find inner peace someday!

Previous to me unfriending McCall, I had a brief Messenger exchange with him. After receiving McCall’s last reply, I decided to remove him from my friends’ list. What follows is the discussion that transpired between McCall and the “self-proclaimed” atheist Bruce Gerencser (all grammar in the original).

McCall: Several years back on a blog by James McGrath in which he as criticizing me for not believing Jesus existed, you made a statement to the affect that you agreed with McGrath that a Gospel figure of Jesus did infract exist. Since that time, I published my review of David Clumney’s book “Jesus Eclipsed” (My review is on Amazon, I suggest you review it when you have time). I emailed McGrath at Bulter University making him aware of my review and asked him to prove me wrong since McGrath made it a point on both his blog and at his faculty description to let people know he made a point of disproving all mythical Jesus claims. McGrath never responded to me via email, but I happen to see his follow-up on his blog that my scholarship that Jesus did not exist was, “absurd!” (see my respond to him on my review). Since that time he has removed from both his blog and Butler University religion faculty description any claim that he debunks claims that the New Testament Jesus never existed. Likewise, I asked via email that both John Loftus and his co-blogger David Madison respond to my review (see my responses to my Clumney review), but like McGrath, they never did at least anywhere I’m aware. So, do you still think a Gospel Jesus existed? I want to get any input because I want to know if my last four points on my review on Amazon are rock solid.

Bruce: Here’s my take on the issue: Questions: Do You Believe Jesus was a Real Person?  Honestly, this is not an issue that greatly interests me. My focus is on helping doubting Evangelicals where they are.

McCall: Hi Bruce, While I read your “take on the issue”, I don’t believe you even bothered to look at my book review on Amazon of “Jesus Eclipsed”. Maybe I assumed you were a scholar the same way I’m a scholar on the existence of a Historical Jesus. You seem overly dependent on Bart Erhman, who like David Chumney, uses the New Testament to prove the New Testament, a practice that would never be allowed as evidence in a court of law. Secondly, I was hoping for at least a response to my last four short major points as to why pointed out why Jesus don’t exist. Your closing comment, “What I am saying, however, is that I don’t find their arguments” (including mine) “compelling, as things now stand, I see no reason to overthrow the status quo.” In short, I thought you were a more of an independent objective thinker. Could I ask you a question about Bart Erhman (who I have met and talk to in person)? Why is it that neither Bart Erhamn and others who cites Josephus a evidence for a Historical Jesus have not used the Greek Concordance to his works: “The Complete Concordance to Flavius Josehpus: Study Edition”? I invested $500.00 in this Greek 2 Vol. set while Erhman can only cite an English translate (this workd is not even mentioned in his “Bibliography”! Bruce, I still thank you have a great blog, but when it comes original work of the Historical Jesus, I feel as if I expected too much from you. In short, I feel you simply gave me the liberal Apostles Creed as to why you need a Historical Jesus to exist. Finally, if you are anyone you know wants to respond, please leave a review of at least my closing four point of my review at Amazon. I checked this comment section often.

Bruce: Fuck, Harry, I read your review. I even read Bob’s [Robert Price] review. You might want to rethink your approach. Your “believe as I do” or you are in denial approach is not helpful, nor what I would expect from a friend/acquaintance of mine. I get it, this is a big issue for you. Sorry, but it’s not for me, nor will it be. I know my “calling.” Be well.

McCall: Thanks Bruce! You just proved my point.

I first became acquainted with McCall when he was a regular contributor on John Loftus’ blog, Debunking Christianity. Based on this, I assumed McCall was an atheist, as did some of Facebook friends. One of his friends asked, “I thought you were an atheist?”

Harry responded:

I’m not a Christian, but a Biblical scholar who is spiritual be it over a warm cup of coffee on a cold winter’s night as I look out into nature (very spiritual) or a wonderful sunset (no theology to ruin this). The term “atheist” has too much baggage associated with it and, frankly I have been attacked more by one to many Atheists to make me ever want to convert and leave my peaceful spiritual religious life and enter a world all to often dominated by bitterness.

I knew that McCall had publicly called out James McGrath, David Madison, Tim O’Neill, John Loftus, and Bart Ehrman over their rejection of mythicism — the belief that the historical Jesus is a myth. I am acquainted with all of these men, some more so than others. (I wrote the forward to David Madison’s book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith.) All of them are students of the Bible and Christian history. All of them are far more educated than I am. McGrath, O’Neill and Ehrman have all been quite vocal in their opposition to and rejection of mythicism. Harry McCall, on the other hand, is a mythicist zealot. He’s the kind of “believer” who puts people into two categories: “against” him or “for” him. McCall is convinced that he has overwhelmingly proved that the historical Jesus is a myth, and anyone who reads his writings will come to the same conclusion. Those who don’t are immediately condemned and summarily executed.

McCall thinks that just because he writes something, that those who disagree with it or mythicism, in general, are obligated to refute him. I see similar behavior from Christian Fundamentalists. Over the years, I have had countless Evangelicals demand that I answer their “irrefutable” arguments for their peculiar brand of Christianity. There was a time when I would do so, but I later came to the conclusion that it was a waste of time. Zealots, be they Christian, atheist, or “spiritual,” are closed-minded. Their goal is not discussion, it’s conversion.

Due to pervasive, painful health problems, I have a limited amount of time each day to write. As I made clear to McCall, I know my “calling” in life. I have a target audience that I hope to reach and engage. Mythicism is not on my radar. I have read a few books on the subject, and I follow the blogs of the aforementioned anti-mythicists. Quite frankly, for the reasons mentioned in Questions: Do You Believe Jesus was a Real Person?, mythicism doesn’t interest me. I am settled in my opinion that there once was a real Jesus who lived and died 2,000 years ago. End of discussion.

McCall was wrong when he wrote that I believed a “Gospel figure of Jesus did in fact exist.” I have never made such an assertion. I take a reductionist view of Jesus, rejecting many (most) of the stories about him recorded in the Gospels. This, of course, is not good enough for McCall. He demands complete and total capitulation; his way or the highway. When I refused to bow to his intellect, he went after me personally, suggesting that I am neither at peace with my beliefs or happy. It was only then that I unfriended McCall on Facebook. Of course, McCall expected that I would unfriend him. After sending me his final retort: “you just proved my point,” McCall immediately checked to see if I had unfriended him, suggesting, at least to me, that he expected me to do so. I aim to please, right?

I am sure McCall will continue to call me out over my refusal to abandon the historical Jesus. To that I say: Harry, go fornicate with yourself. 🙂

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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39 Comments

  1. Karen the rock whisperer

    If I understand correctly, there seem to be three major views on the subject: one, there was a preacher named Jesus the son of Joseph, whose teachings and ministry–which may or may not be recorded correctly in the Gospels–provided the kernel of what eventually became Christianity; two, the Gospels record some amalgam of teachings of various preachers who lived around the same time; or three, Paul made up the Christ myth, and the Gospels were written as fictional backstory (a collection of tales that people made up about this Jesus guy after his death). I’m not a historian. I don’t read any of the ancient languages that were used in the early writings. I can see how this question can be tantalizingly interesting to such folks.

    I honestly don’t see why it matters.

    A bunch of folks came to believe in the Risen Christ. Those who could write, started writing because this was important to them. Every writer, of both the canonical and non-canonical literature, was writing from a particular point of view, and trying to put that forth in their letter or Gospel. To me, that’s the interesting part. Then there are the additions or changes that historians find between the oldest texts and slightly newer versions, which reflect a growing, evolving religion. Whether the canonical Gospels represent a single Jesus or not, the people nurturing this new religion undoubtedly believed in one, and that’s the important bit.

    And the Jesus these people believed in doesn’t seem like he might have had much in common with a lot of the Jesuses worshipped by modern Christians.

    Reply
    1. Tim O'Neill

      “there seem to be three major views on the subject: one, there was a preacher named Jesus the son of Joseph, whose teachings and ministry–which may or may not be recorded correctly in the Gospels–provided the kernel of what eventually became Christianity”

      Yes, that is pretty much the view of virtually all critical scholars.

      “the Gospels record some amalgam of teachings of various preachers who lived around the same time”

      Ummm, no. That is not a “main view on the subject” and is not held by any scholars at all. There is no evidence Jesus was some “amalgam” and good evidence he was an individual.

      “three, Paul made up the Christ myth, and the Gospels were written as fictional backstory”

      No-one holds that view either; at least noone with any grasp of the source material. Paul refers several times in his letters to how there were “those who were apostles before me” and how he “persecuted the assembly of God” and been an opponent of the Jesus Sect before later joining it. So he didn’t “make up the Christ myth” – that makes no sense.

      Reply
  2. GeoffT

    My view is largely the same as Karen, boiling down to ‘why the fuss’? We can be fairly certain that the Jesus of the gospels didn’t exist. The entire gospel narratives are fictitious, with the Nativity and Resurrection stories clearly contrived after the event. Historically it’s difficult to imagine bigger messes, but that’s what happens when people try and perpetuate a lie for such a long time.

    Having said which perhaps there is a kernel of truth amongst it all, some itinerant preacher on whom the legend was based, much like Robin Hood (who may well never have existed). Who knows, and it should be ‘who cares’? Unfortunately the Jesus disease (which it is) is so bound in our culture that it excites these ridiculous passions. I’ve read David Chumney’s book, and I found it convincing, but I’ve also read David Fitzgerald, who takes the mythicist position, again convincing. Unfortunately, I’m not a bible scholar and I cannot take a strong position; I can only listen to experts, including Bruce and Bart Ehrman, and use this to spot when people are taking unreasonable or intransigent positions.

    The mythicist position does provoke strong reactions. Tim O’Neill goes way over the top in asserting always that he’s right and everyone else is wrong. Richard Carrier (whom I haven’t read) is also pretty volatile. Get into conversation with mythicists on any forum and it quickly descends; initially the mythicist is dismissed as a marginal view (which it’s not any longer) but then the mythicist often becomes unreasonable and intransigent. That’s what I see with this McCall guy. He’s invested a lot of time and passion into coming to his point of view, and now views as an idiot any who disagree. It’s a danger in becoming too attached to any position that involves doubt.

    Reply
    1. Tim O'Neill

      ” Tim O’Neill goes way over the top in asserting always that he’s right and everyone else is wrong. ”

      Gosh. “Everyone else”? The professional scholars in the field agree with me (or rather, I agree with them). The only people who I think are wrong are the tiny handful of amateurs and nobodies who peddle Mythicism. So why is it “over the top” to hold a majority, consensus position? That doesn’t make sense.

      Reply
      1. GeoffT

        Tim, you make my point far better than I am able.

        Reply
        1. Tim O'Neill

          I do? How is my perfectly civil and totally reasonable question to you above somehow ” over the top”?

          Reply
          1. GeoffT

            Tim, I’ll answer your actual point, very briefly, in a moment, but first let me address the substantive issue.

            Overall I tend toward a historical Jesus, and I frequently cite your two articles. They’re short, clearly well researched, and rapidly help in understanding the main evidence. I’m also required, were I to take a mythicist position, to argue with many scholars, the likes of Bart Ehrman for whom I have the greatest respect, on a subject about which I am no more than a well informed layman (though I could probably ‘wipe the floor’ with most fundamentalists). To adopt such a position might risk being equivalent to a ‘creationist arguing against evolution’, although I do have far more knowledge of the case for Jesus than creationists have of evolution. So it’s probably not unreasonable to say that the consensus (a powerful and misunderstood word) favours a historical Jesus.

            Having said that, there is a growing body of opinion that supports an entirely mythicist position, and whilst I know you aren’t a fan of these guys, the fact is that Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, and Robert Price are very convincing. Forget Carrier’s acerbic style and look at his arguments. Of course you have done so and you strongly disagree; you feel that you are qualified to take this position. I read you and then I read Carrier (actually I haven’t, it’s far too long and I’m just not that interested, but I understand his arguments from surrounding discussions and reading), and I see conflicting conclusions but no way of distinguishing you. I have read some of Price and I’ve read Fitzgerald. They deal with the same evidence you deal with but, again, come to a different conclusion. I see that you have relevant qualifications, but you aren’t Antony Beevor, and so do other people writing on the subject. How can I possibly form a definitive opinion?

            Which brings me to your comment. It’s belittling to mix up terms such as ‘professional’, ‘peddle’, ‘amateur’, ‘nobodies’; these are ad hominems, even the word professional used the way you do implies others are not professional. Then you respond, like a little boy with his hands quickly removed from the cookie jar, to say that you have been ‘civil’!

          2. Tim O'Neill

            “Having said that, there is a growing body of opinion that supports an entirely mythicist position”

            No, there isn’t. There have always been a tiny handful of fringe theorists who have championed Mythicism. The number of them is about as small as it has ever been. The only difference is that, thanks to the internet, which is effective at amplifying all kinds of fringe ideas, they are louder than they used to be. But among scholars it is not a “growing body of opinion” at all.

            “It’s belittling to mix up terms such as ‘professional’, ‘peddle’, ‘amateur’, ‘nobodies’; these are ad hominems”

            “Professional” and “amateur” are simple statements of fact. “Peddle” is merely descriptive. So is “nobodies” – Carrier is suitably qualified, but mention his name to most scholars in the field and their response would be “who?” He holds no academic position and has never secured one. He takes part in no scholarly conferences on any subject, not even the one his thesis was on, let alone NT Studies. And his published output is small and has had no impact. And if you think I’m just being mean here, I’m not. I used to head up academic recruitment for a leading university and so I am very clear on how these things are measured. By any standard, he is a nobody. This is simply a fact.

            “even the word professional used the way you do implies others are not professional.”

            Ummm, that’s the idea. None of the people you mention are employed by an academic institution. They are not professional scholars. Fitzgerald has no academic qualifications at all and is simply a self-published amateur. My pointing these awkward facts out may not reflect well on these people, but facts are facts.

          3. GeoffT

            Tim, your last reply simply endorses my view, but there’s little point in me replying. I’ll let this exchange rest for others to read and form their own opinion.

          4. Tim O'Neill

            ” your last reply simply endorses my view”

            I suspect any reply other than “yes, I’m ‘over the top’ for noting facts about these people” would simply endorse your view, according to you.

            Again, what I note about the status of these people in the scheme of things are simply facts. Price is a marginal eccentric with no teaching position at any university. Carrier is an unemployed blogger and full time anti-Christian polemicist who has never managed to secure an academic position at all. Fitzgerald is an amateur hobbyist who has no relevant higher degree qualifications and self-publishes via print on demand vanity presses. These are simply facts. If they don’t reflect well on Mythicism then that should tell you something.

          5. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            I’m not moderating your comments, by the way. Not sure what’s up. WordPress treats each comment from you as a first-time comment.

  3. Matilda

    I contrasted this guy’s attitude – the arrogant ‘I know I’m right and it’s my way or the highway’, with that of Sean who tried to engage you on the ‘Dear Jesus’ post. Don’t you just love his ‘You express yourself so well, I respect you,’ and the clincher ‘ I truly hope to learn from you.’ So Harry is offended and, snowflake-hurt cos he can’t preach at you any more and Sean has had a hotline message from god to Be Nice, flatter, set up a fake friendship, put irrefutable zinging arguements that will PROVE to the apostate Mr G that he needs to repent….these folk never learn do they? That neither their offensively rude, or sugary fake and insincere comments won’t ever cause their holy ghost to sprinkle his magic fairy dust over us through them!

    Reply
  4. Zoe

    Harry’s response: “I’m not a Christian, but a Biblical scholar who is spiritual be it over a warm cup of coffee on a cold winter’s night as I look out into nature (very spiritual) or a wonderful sunset (no theology to ruin this). The term “atheist” has too much baggage associated with it and, frankly I have been attacked more by one to many Atheists to make me ever want to convert and leave my peaceful spiritual religious life and enter a world all to often dominated by bitterness.”

    Zoe: This reminds me of something my mother repeats as she still can’t figure out my use of the term “atheist.” She now calls me a “spiritual atheist.” She tells people that “my daughter is an atheist and she’s the most spiritual person I know.”

    I don’t enjoy coffee but I do enjoy organic loose leaf green teas. I adore sunsets and I have some wonderful photos of many. One can understand why the ancients looked at that big orange ball and worshipped it.

    I tend to my garden (less on my knees due to my own frailty as I age) as I do most of nature. If this makes me a spiritual person from some perspectives, I can live with that. It doesn’t change the fact that the term I use to describe my lack of faith in any Ggods is atheist. It’s not a derogatory term for me. Maybe that’s why I decided to not shy away from using the term. Atheists can be nice people too. 🙂 Just because some of them are jerks doesn’t change the term I’ve chosen to describe my disbelief in Ggods. Sort of like when I was a Christian. Christian jerks didn’t keep me from using the term Christian to describe my then belief in a Triune God.

    Many years ago during a therapy session my then therapist asked me what I did with my “God” hole. I asked him to explain. Well all those years that hole was filled with your belief, with Jesus. Now you don’t believe, what do you fill that hole with? I took a moment to breathe and sit with his question. I then answered simply, “peace.” I am an atheist who is at peace.

    Do I have the answers? No. I’m content with the agnostic part of me. I lean toward a mythic Jesus. Always have right from the start. Even before I started hearing the term “mythicist.” Had no idea that it was even a thing. I just tended toward a belief that most of what I was reading in the Bible was myth. I tried to change and become a card-carrying Christian literalist and it almost killed me. Simmer in that stew long enough and you’ll get abused up one side and down the other. And that’s the danger for me. I need to avoid literalism of all kinds. I can live with Jesus being an historical person and still live a peaceful atheistic life. I can live with the possibility of Jesus being mythical and still live a peaceful atheistic life.

    I have pulled away from trying to sort it all out. It reminds me of my years in Christianity. This scholar says one thing, another scholar says another thing. This one claims they have the one true interpretation, this one claims they have another one true interpretation. Then as years go by the scholarship evolves a bit with more understanding and study and yet countless people went to their grave hell-bent on their one form of interpretation thinking they got it right and they’d roll in their graves if they knew what they once held on to was all changed due to some archaeological find or some new scroll found in a previously undiscovered cave.

    I don’t know and I’m getting quite comfortable in being a zealot about it. 😉

    Reply
  5. Ami

    “You seem overly dependent on Bart Erhman, who like David Chumney, uses the New Testament to prove the New Testament, a practice that would never be allowed as evidence in a court of law. ”

    The guy probably is grumpy from the stiff neck/sore spinal cord afflicting him. Happens when one is chasing his or her own tail.

    And don’t Christians use the Bible to prove the Bible? God said it, blah blah.

    I’m not really sure why the guy is so grumpy about your beliefs, as they’re yours. If we all went around being angry at people who don’t think our way we’d have chaos… oh wait, the current political climate/religious debates are pretty chaotic.

    I say Harry needs to take a break from the internet/social media, which I can prove by using the internet.

    Reply
  6. Brian Vanderlip

    Zoe: I don’t enjoy coffee but I do enjoy organic loose leaf green teas.

    Brian: I feel as if I expected too much from you. In short, I feel you simply gave me the liberal response to coffee. if you are anyone you know wants to respond, please leave a review of at least my closing four points regarding the necessity of drinking coffee.
    In summary, this is not really about coffee or tea, Zoe. This about ME! I am getting tired of people ignoring that I spent 500 dollars on a research book and know things that almost prevent me from become annoyed with others. Please see my new book on Amazon, Coffee and Non-believers: How Tea is Ruining Us.

    Reply
  7. ObstacleChick

    Maybe there was a teacher named Jesus who was charismatic, followed by a lot of people, who died, and his followers made up stories about him after his death. Maybe “Jesus” is an amalgamation of several charismatic apocalyptic teachers so popular at that time. Maybe Paul made him up, or others made him up and Paul latched on to the stories and propagated more fiction about him. Who knows? Does it really matter? What we ended up with is a religion (one could argue that it’s a collection of similar religions) based on the selected fan fiction about a “Jesus” and that has been used to control the masses so that the few can obtain and maintain power.

    Reply
    1. Tim O'Neill

      ” Maybe “Jesus” is an amalgamation of several charismatic apocalyptic teachers so popular at that time.”

      What evidence suggests this?

      “Maybe Paul made him up, or others made him up and Paul latched on to the stories and propagated more fiction about him.”

      Given that Paul *tells* us he persecuted the Jesus sect before joining it, he can’t have “made him up”. So, no. And it would be a bit hard for Paul to meet his brother and two of his friends if he never existed in the first place. Or were James, Peter and John just pretending to be his followers to cover up the fact they “made him up”? These weak alternatives quickly descend into silliness.

      ” Who knows?”

      People who like to “know” things for certain are going to find ancient history frustrating. Historians deal with what is most likely. It is most likely, on the balance of evidence, that a historical Jesus existed.

      “Does it really matter? ”

      For those of us interested in ancient history, yes, actually, it matters a bit. Feel free to be uninterested.

      Reply
  8. Michael Mock

    Honestly, you were pretty clear: “Honestly, this is not an issue that greatly interests me.” That really should have been an anvil-from-the-sky-sized clue for him to go seek to engage someone else on this issue. Instead, he did the studious intellectual’s equivalent of jumping up and down whilst waving his arms and yelling “look at me!”

    At that point, I don’t care what his arguments are either. They may be solid as a rock or full of holes that you could drive a cruise ship through. It doesn’t matter, because he’s clearly demonstrated that interacting with him is more far effort/aggravation than it could possibly be worth to find out.

    It is, as you pointed out, the same lack of fundamental courtesy that makes so many would-be evangelists insufferable.

    Reply
  9. Becky Wiren

    Sounds like your acquaintance is a miserable person. He’s right, you’re wrong, and he gets to feel justified in his aggravation. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be around someone like that very much.

    Reply
  10. Zoe

    Brian,

    Laughing out loud. Oh great. Now you’ve got me coughing from inhaling too deeply. Way to go! 😉 Love it. This is a keeper.

    Reply
  11. Brunetto Latini

    The subject doesn’t particularly interest me, but his manner reminds me of a child impressed with his intellect. I’ve encountered “scholars” like that on Christian discussion forums before. One guy in particular was an auto shop owner who became so convinced of his post-trib theories that he became a pastor and, last I read, was setting dates.

    Reply
  12. Carmen

    Brian: “This is about ME!”

    Need he say more? 🙂

    Reply
  13. Linn

    There are people who just try to get attention, and i think this person is one of those. Publish something you really can’t defend, then argue with everyone about it, even those who really aren’t out to pick a fight. Best ignored…silence sometimes makes them go away.

    Reply
  14. Aram McLean

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments so probably just repeating a common opinion, but as far as I see it – yes, the debate is somewhat interesting, especially in recognizing how religions can develop from a real person but also from no one at all (John Frum of cargo cult fame comes to mind). But at the end of the day it just doesn’t matter to me. The resultant claims aren’t true. The end.

    Reply
  15. Tim O'Neill

    “how religions can develop from a real person but also from no one at all (John Frum of cargo cult fame comes to mind)”

    Except it is far from clear that “John Frum” developed “from no-one at all”. “John Frum” seems to be a clear amalgam of the god Keraperamun, various colonial and missionary Europeans called “John” (who had introduced themselves as “John from …”, thus perhaps the name “John Frum”), the several “John Frum” claimants like Manehivi and another man called Neloiag and the thousands of American “Johns” in the 300,000 troops stationed on the island of Tanna where the cult began in the Second World War with their abundance of “cargo” and seemingly magical technology.

    Examples of people who came to be regarded as historical despite not actually existing in any way are few. Ones where this happened within a few years of their supposed life (as we see with Jesus) are non-existent. On the other hand, examples of founders of sects who get exalted to high status or even divinity are plentiful. This is one reason a historical Jesus is vastly more probable than the unlikely scenarios required by Mythicism.

    Reply
    1. Aram McLean

      Okay so I’ve had a chance to read the comments now, and see that you’re quite insistent on your view – despite the fact we really cannot know. That seems an ironic position for a skeptic to hold.

      Further, you’re jumping into explaining John Frum to me – despite the fact I’m the one who brought it up and therefore clearly already know the story and theories surrounding cargo cults etc – shows me you’re stuck on ‘educating’ those around you, rather than daring to treat them as fellow adults who also have a brain. Hence no doubt the reason your tone here rubs so many people wrong. You come across as quite arrogant is what it is – again perhaps ironically, your tone is rather like Harry McCall’s is, though he’s on the other side of the fence.

      I bring up John Frum to say we don’t know exactly what he was. Indeed, your own quote says ‘seems’. Jesus also ‘seems’ to be this or that, but a definitive answer is not going to happen barring new evidence.

      As Zoe so aptly put it above, in part: “Then as years go by the scholarship evolves a bit with more understanding and study and yet countless people went to their grave hell-bent on their one form of interpretation thinking they got it right and they’d roll in their graves if they knew what they once held on to was all changed due to some archaeological find or some new scroll found in a previously undiscovered cave.”

      Don’t be that guy.

      All the best in any case. I’ve no more to say on the topic.

      Reply
      1. Tim O'Neill

        “you’re quite insistent on your view – despite the fact we really cannot know. That seems an ironic position for a skeptic to hold.”

        Ummm, no it isn’t. It’s how the study of history works. We can’t “know” for certain pretty much anything in pre-modern history. All historical analysis is a matter of making assessments of likelihood and then settling on the argument to the best explanation. After 30+ years of study on this and related topics, I’ve done that. You may not be in a position to make an assessment one way or the other, but I assure you I am. That doesn’t mean I claim to “know” what happened (see above about how that’s impossible), but it does mean that I can and should engage with positions that I don’t find at all convincing and explain why. I have no idea why you’re mistaking this for being “insistent” or even why that would be a bad thing anyway.

        “you’re jumping into explaining John Frum to me – despite the fact I’m the one who brought it up”

        Yes, to disagree with an aspect of what you said and explain why. Why should I not do this?

        “You come across as quite arrogant”

        Because I have disagreed with you? That’s pretty childish.

        “I bring up John Frum to say we don’t know exactly what he was.”

        What you actually said was “religions can develop from a real person but also from no one at all” and then used Frum as an example. That is not saying ” we don’t know exactly what he was”, it’s quite explicitly saying he was a figure that developed “from no one at all”. So I noted (i) that it’s far from clear that he developed “from no one at all” and (ii) most sects that claim a founder do so because … they had a founder. This alone makes it more likely that this claim about Jesus by the early sect had a basis in fact.

        “a definitive answer is not going to happen barring new evidence.”

        Yes. That’s the nature of pre-modern history. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t come to a well-founded conclusion about what is most likely. That’s what historians DO.

        Reply
        1. Aram McLean

          A quick look at your personal blog answers everything I need to know about you. Also realized from your other picture over there that I’ve run into you before. Amazing how completely not at all you’ve changed in the years between then and now.

          Reply
          1. Tim O'Neill

            “A quick look at your personal blog answers everything I need to know about you.”

            Ummm, that I’m interested in people getting history right? That I expect people who preach at others to do their homework and pay attention to experts to actually do these things themselves? Or something else? What exactly has it told you? Please explain.

            ” Amazing how completely not at all you’ve changed in the years between then and now.”

            What exactly should I have changed and why? I’m getting a lot of weird, sniffy and incoherent comments here. Please try to articulate whatever it is you’re trying to say.

        2. Brian Vanderlip

          Blogger: “You come across as quite arrogant”

          Evangelist: Because I have disagreed with you? That’s pretty childish.

          No, Tim, not because of that… take another stab at it. You must read slowly and carefully to get the jist. Take thirty years if you like and buy a 500 dollar tome that the blogger doesn’t possess.

          Reply
          1. Tim O'Neill

            What? I have no idea what half of that even means (“buy a 500 dollar tome that the blogger doesn’t possess” – huh?). All I’ve done is disagree with a couple of people here and explained why. It’s not like I’ve said they are stupid or otherwise insulted them. How is disagreeing with them or anything else I said “arrogant”? Please explain.

        3. Aram McLean

          I just mean your tone and approach seems to not have changed whatsoever in all these years, and your blog writings – though in their own way of interest for what they are, whether right or wrong – utilize this same grating tone consistently. It is what it is. You’re welcome to your approach, just be aware that it doesn’t really foster an urge to engage with you. At least it doesn’t for me and others here. But whatevs. No doubt you have enough people agreeing with you on your blog that it matters little to you that conversing with you feels much like trying to converse with a religious zealot. So be it. Take care and all the best.

          Reply
          1. Tim O'Neill

            This “grating tone”? What exactly makes my tone “grating” to you? In the four years my blog has existed the only people who have found its tone anything like “grating” are its targets – people who want to defend pseudo history and bad fringe theories simply because these things seem to be hit out at Christianity. Perhaps you need to ask yourself why *you* find my tone “grating”. Most other people don’t (“amusing” is the adjective most used, actually).

            Why do you think that conversing with me “feels much like trying to converse with a religious zealot”? Unlike religious zealots, I work from reason and evidence. Unlike religious zealots, I base my views on the work of expert scholars and almost always hold to the consensus of the world’s best experts on given topics. Unlike religious zealots, I change my mind in the face of better evidence and admit errors if I make them – and do so in public and with full acknowledgement of thanks to whoever has changed my view. None of that is anything like the actions or thinking of a religious zealot. You seem to be mistaking confidence based on careful research and knowledge of the relevant material for zealotry. They are not the same thing.

            Finally, I also find people tend to resort to complaining about tone when they know they can’t make any arguments about substance. You might think about that too.

  16. Brian Vanderlip

    Sorry, Tim O’Neill, I’ve confused you with another blogger regarding the 500 dollars. The confusion happened because I felt a parallel in tone from the other blogger and then leapt to speaking as if you were that other… a mistake, I see. Regarding the arrogance I wish to refer you back to Aram’s reference to Zoe.

    Reply
    1. Tim O'Neill

      Pardon? Again, what is “arrogant” about holding a position that I’ve researched in detail for decades and arguing for it here? Have I been rude to anyone? Have I belittled them? No. So what’s the problem? What “tone”? This is getting very strange.

      Reply
  17. Brian Vanderlip

    I welcome your admittance of how very strange this is… To be clear, I have little interest in your pursuit, though support you most wholeheartedly in it. My quandary has to do more with the fact of ‘belief’ amongst us and how it is clearly a widespread need. You do not believe and yet spend decades in studying the historicity of the Jesus figure, focussing on pointing out the errors you see among believers and non-believers when speaking of the Jesus. I think that what you do is of value and applaud you for it but wonder what role it has here? This blog is to support people who have managed to find their way out of belief, or are considering it, or are in pursuit of questions regarding faith and belief. Your self-proclaimed efforts are noted and are far beyond me and I suggest most of us here. We do not share your pursuit and yet are able to appreciate what we are able to surmise from it. Thank-you so much for offering what you have… I trust that your efforts to show that Jesus may have actually been a person in history, does some good to help others understand that the Jesus of the Bible is a collection of bits and wishes, fanciful wonderings and facts, facts often stated by one preacher as God’s Word. I do apoligize for not being able to add to your erudition. I am just the Baptist preacher’s boy who survived the Jesus of my upbringing. This is indeed very strange, that someone like me could be addressing a man who has spent thirty plus years reading after Jesus, looking, trying to understand. I wish you all the best, sir and hope that your visit here has not been lost time.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I’ve known Tim for a few years — traded a few emails with each other. I read his blog, and deeply appreciate his writing. I am of the opinion that he provides a needed course correction when atheists wrongly use Christian church history to “prove” a point. It irritates the hell out of me when notable atheists distort Christian beliefs and history (especially when it’s not hard to find the facts on any given subject).

      I mentioned Tim in this post in relation to mythicist Harry McCall calling him (and other historians) out over his position on the historicity of Jesus.

      Reply
    2. Tim O'Neill

      Thanks for the welcome and gracious words Brian. And if one person who, on leaving their faith and thinking some of the less credible fringe historical ideas about Jesus are credible, rethinks that because of something I’ve said, then my comments here won’t be a waste of time. I genuinely dislike seeing people veer from one bad idea (Christianity) to another (Mythicism), and I often see former Christians adopt Mythicism with an evangelical fervour that shows some people can only think in absolutes.

      Reply
      1. GeoffT

        No problem here, Tim. We shake a digital hand and move on.

        Reply

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