Monday, February 24, 2014

Harry McCall responds (sort of), and profundity does not ensue

Harry McCall and I have been engaging in a back and forth regarding his thesis that the OT—yes, the entire OT--is a forged document from the late second temple period. I wrote a blog post demonstrating logically, historically, and textually why McCall’s thesis is unreasonable. McCall has claimed that he will properly deal with my arguments. In the comment section of this recent post at DC, McCall claimed the following: I'm going to post a full article here at DC tonight (It's just about finished) that takes you [sic] blog's post apart piece by piece. However, McCall never posted this article that was supposedly “about finished”, or if he did I have yet to see it materialize.
What he did do, however, was post a short rebuttal comment to an argument I promulgated over at DC in the comment section. Is this the material he claimed was going to take up a full article? I can’t say. And why McCall did not post this “response” on his own blog instead of the comment section of my blog is strange. Usually McCall parades his idiosyncratic theses around the DC pages. But, when claiming to take my arguments apart “piece by piece” he seems to not want many to see his responses. And after reading his so-called rebuttals, I can clearly see why.
So, the purpose of this post is to demonstrate why McCall’s recent answer to my arguments fall short of the mark, are predicated on more non-sequiturs, and only deal with a small fraction of my original arguments.
Let me set the stage and begin with McCall’s argument, as articulated at DC, on how to “deprogram a Christian”:
  1.  Demand textual proof that any verse of the Old Testament was written before 200 BCE. (There's 23,145 verses to prove them right or wrong.)
  2. Demand historical proof (apart from using the New Testament to prove the New Testament) that Jesus Christ existed. (Let's see absolute truth prove itself.)

As you can see, 1) is predicated on McCall’s biblical forgery thesis, and 2) is predicated on Jesus Mythicism. My response was as follows:
How to Deconvert/Deprogram a believer in the writings of Tacitus
(1) Demand textual proof that any volume of Tacitus' Annals was written before the ninth century.

How to Deconvert/Deprogram a believer in the existence in Caesar Augustus
(2) Demand historical proof (apart from using the writers that already assume Augustus existed) that Augustus existed.

This response was put forward in order to demonstrate the double standards that McCall employs in making his historical arguments against the Bible and Jesus’ existence. And it is to this response that McCall has offered his so-called rebuttal. McCall’s response begins as follows:
We know Rome existed! We don’t need either the writings of Tacitus nor Caesar Augustus to prove this. There ARE tons of archeological evidence from the time they discuss that one can see in Rome and Italy today. However, there is totally NO evidence Biblical Israel existed as described in the extensive and detailed text of the Bible.

McCall’s assertions here greatly confuse me. I never argued that Rome did not exist. McCall’s and mine discussion has no bearing on the topic of the existence of Rome. Second, neither did I ever claim that the writings of Tacitus or Augustus were necessary in order to demonstrate such a thing. So, McCall’s comments here have only caused more confusion, and have not even begun to scratch the surface of my arguments against his thesis. McCall continues with his next objection:

Neither Tacitus nor Caesar Augustus give detail word for word statements from hundreds of people over thousands of years. While Steven wants to play down the myths of Adam, Eve and the talking Snake, Steven then depends heavily on the internal Biblical chronology itself to link it to some history, but sadly for him, there is none[.]

There are many responses here. First, McCall’s objection here seems to, once again, not even pertain to the discussion. Remember that the discussion, based off of McCall’s own thesis, regards whether or not we have any reason to believe that the Hebrew Bible was forged in the second temple period. McCall’s (attempted) point in the above comment is that the Bible claims to give history over many centuries while Tacitus’ writings—I never mentioned the writings of Augustus, so I fail to see why he uses Augustus here—only claim to give historical details over a period of decades. So, what exactly does this latter point have to do with McCall’s original thesis? I profess that I have no idea. Whether the Bible was a forged document has nothing whatsoever to do with how long its purported historical recollections are. This seems to be another non-sequitur, the mark of McCall.
Second, even if McCall’s above objection was efficacious, it fails to take into account the nature of the biblical data, and draws a false parallel between the OT and the writings of historians of antiquity. For remember that the OT is an anthology, and was therefore written by dozens of authors. So, of course it makes sense that the timeline of dozens of authors stretches across centuries, while the timeline of one historian only stretches across decades. What else would we expect?
Notice that nothing McCall has objected here has even touched upon my original objections to his thesis. McCall is attempting (though not succeeding) to pick off the fleas while ignoring the dog that the fleas rest on. McCall continues:

Sadly for Steve, he’ll find totally nothing like this for the works of Tacitus or Caesar Augustus nor the total lack of evidence for a Classical archeologist digging in Rome or the Roman Empire because the Roman Empire existed (unlike the myth of the Biblical Israel).

McCall once again seems to have blatantly missed the point. The discussion is not over the existence of Rome. Rather, the discussion is regarding whether or not we are warranted in extending the existence of a writing beyond its earliest existing manuscript, and how this ties into the biblical textual evidence. Apparently McCall has amnesia and has forgotten exactly what we are discussing.
McCall articulates his third and final objection:

A major error Steve is making in his analogy is early evidence for a book (the Bible) that records 4,000 years of history before Christianity. Steve come up totally empty hand for any early Biblical text apart from the late post 200 (250?) BCE Qumran Scrolls.

Um, ok. McCall is oblivious to the fact that I have already conceded this. I agree that we have no copy of a biblical text that dates to before 250 BCE. Did you catch that? I agree. But, McCall has missed the point yet again. The debate is not regarding the date of these texts, but, rather, whether we can date the originals of these writings to before our earliest copies. The answer is  of course we can! Again, to reiterate what I already said in my last post on this subject, nearly all writings from antiquity survive on copies that date to centuries after they were written. So, to claim that we can project an earlier date for the originals of these copies from antiquity, but not for the Bible, is to enact a double standard! McCall has heard all this before, but instead of reformulating his thesis so as to avoid special pleading, he simply ignores the damaging objections to it and continues to promulgate such weak hypotheses. McCall continues:

Neither Tacitus (born 100 BCE) or Tacitus (born 56 CE) claim to record in detail direct speeches from both men, angels, demons and god, but are late down to earth documents we would expect of ancient historians of the time[.]

McCall is, again, missing the point completely. First, the topic of the writings that we’re discussing is irrelevant. What is relevant is when we can date these texts. Just because the Bible claims to report speeches from angles, demons, and God says nothing at all about when we can date the writings of said texts. McCall has formed another non-sequitur.
Second, and more importantly, there are many writings from reliable historians in antiquity that can be put in a similar genre as some of the writings of the Hebrew Bible. Let us take Tacitus, since we have already been using him as our prime example. Tacitus recorded that Roman emperor Vespasian miraculously healed a blind man and a lame man. That is, Tacitus recorded a miracle! A miracle, you know, like the kind found in the…the Bible.

Let us look at another example from the great historian Herodotus. Herodotus records that a horse gave birth to a rabbit. He also records a supposed fulfilled prophecy from the God Apollo. He also records that a Persian magi cast a spell to stop the Persian War on the fourth day. Herodotus even records that the Temple of Delphi miraculously defended itself with lightning bolts and rock avalanches! After reading these accounts one might label Herodotus as a dubious historian. On the contrary, he has been dubbed the “Father of History” and is regarded as, arguably, the greatest historian in antiquity.

All this is to demonstrate that there are indeed miraculous accounts in other writings from antiquity that can be paralleled with biblical accounts. So, McCall cannot claim that the miraculous nature of the Hebrew Bible allows us to discount an early date for its composition—a blatant non-sequitur—unless he is willing to do the same for other writings from antiquity. But, so far, we have seen that he is not, for then his illogic would be explicitly manifest.
McCall then ends his comment by listing a number of textual documents that demonstrate that other ancient nations existed in antiquity. However, seeing as how I have not called into question the existence of these nations, I fail to see McCall’s logical punch-line. To reiterate ad nauseum, the discussion is about the warrant one has for dating a writing earlier than its oldest manuscript; and a list of other nation’s textual writings adds nothing to my objections to McCall’s thesis.
In short, McCall’s thesis remains predicated on illogic, double standards, and a blatant ignorance of the actual textual evidence. I have demonstrated this before, and McCall’s most recent answer is drowned in more of the same—double standards and non-sequiturs. But, as I said, this seems to be the mark of McCall.

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