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Did Jesus Exist? - II

Discussion of Faith & Religion.

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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby Schmoo » Sun Nov 22, 2009 2:19 am

atDissenter wrote:
Given that the only things I'd say we can know about the historical Jesus with even the vaguest degree of certainty are (i) he existed, (ii) he was from Nazareth, (iii) he was baptised by John, (iv) he preached about a coming apocalypse and (v) he was crucified by Pontius Pilate, asking me for other details is barking up the wrong tree. Go find yourself a fundie.


Where's you're proof?


Dozens of very early textual accounts with independent attestations. That's a big one. Cross-Cultural Anthropology that confirms many of the cultural scenarios we find Jesus involved with and reacting to in the texts about his life. Archaeological discoveries that confirm those conclusions from cross-cultural anthropology.

In the study of ancient history, there is never "proof" of anything. The study of ancient history is not like the study of mathematics. It is reconstruction based on evidence. To suggest that Jesus never existed is to suggest that the entire institution of historical research is flawed at its core. You might as well say Alexander the Great never existed.

We have more early sources, independently attested, for the life of Jesus than just about any other figure in all of ancient history.
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby TimONeill » Sun Nov 22, 2009 2:25 am

atDissenter wrote:
Given that the only things I'd say we can know about the historical Jesus with even the vaguest degree of certainty are (i) he existed, (ii) he was from Nazareth, (iii) he was baptised by John, (iv) he preached about a coming apocalypse and (v) he was crucified by Pontius Pilate, asking me for other details is barking up the wrong tree. Go find yourself a fundie.


Where's you're proof?


We don't deal in "proof" in the study of ancient history - we leave "proof" to mathematicians. We deal in what is the most likely explanation of the evidence.

In summary:

(i) he existed

The idea that the stories about him are based on a historical figure is the most parsimonious explanation of how they arose, since the alternatives require repeated suppositions to explain away key elements in the evidence (eg all those "maybes" required to make references to his brother etc disappear).

He is mentioned by Josephus twice and by Tacitus once and the arguments required to make these clear references in two independent sources disappear require, once again, a small hill of suppositions and contrived arguments.

The stories about him contain elements which are clearly awkward for the gospel writers (his origin in Nazareth, his baptism, his execution) and which they try, largely unsuccessfully, to explain away or which they downplay or remove. These elements are awkward because they don't fit the expectations of who and what the Messiah was, yet they remain in the story. This makes perfect sense if the gospel writers are trying to make a historical figure fit the Messianic expectations and some elements in his story simply don't fit well. But it makes no sense at all if they are making him up or his story simply arose out of the expectations. If that were the case his story would fit the expectations very neatly and these awkward elements wouldn't exist.

(ii) he was from Nazareth

See above. Not only is the fact that he was from Nazareth a feature of all versions of the stories but Nazareth itself appears, with Jesus being scorned and rejected there. This was clearly a problem for the gospel writers, because the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah was going to come from Bethlehem. So the writers of Matthew and Luke both tell stories to "explain" how a man who was known to be and who was depicted as being from Nazareth could actually have been born in Bethlehem. The problem is (i) their stories are riddled with historical problems that show they are inventions and (ii) they don't just totally contradict each other, they are set ten years apart and are mutually exclusive.

Again, this all makes perfect sense if he did exist and he was from Nazareth. They would need to "explain" how someone from a tiny, insignificant village in Galilee could actually have fulfilled the prophecy about Bethlehem. But it makes no sense at all if he was an invention or myth. If that is the case, why is Nazareth in the story at all? The only logical explanation is that it's there because that is where he was from.

(iii) he was baptised by John

This is another of those awkward elements. Mark and Luke tell a story about Jesus going with other people to be cleansed of their sins by being baptised by John. But this story clearly caused problems for early Christians, as it implies that Jesus was a sinner and that he was subordinate to John (who had his own followers long after his death). So Matthew inserts an element in the story where John tries to object to the idea of baptising the Messiah (Matthew 3:13-15), whereas the Gospel of John removes the baptism altogether and simply has John the Baptist see Jesus and hail him as the Messiah.

If this element was awkward enough for Matthew to try to explain it away and John to whitewash it completely, why is it in the story? If Jesus existed, this element makes sense - it's in the story because it happened. If he didn't exist, however, why did the people who made him up (whoever they were) insert something so contrary to the expectations of the Messiah? That makes no sense.

(iv) he preached about a coming apocalypse

The evidence for this is ovewhelming, since virtually everything the Jesus in the gospels says, every parable he tells and every miracle he does is about or related to the common Jewish belief of the time that the "kingship of God is near at hand" and that God was about to smite the unrighteous and elevate the saved in a renewed world. But some of the things that Jesus says in the gospels were awkward for the gospel writers because he makes statements that were simply wrong. He is depicted in all three of the synoptics as saying "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things (ie the coming of the apocalyptic kingship of God) take place." (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32) That was simply wrong. Christians have been trying to explain this failed prophecy away ever since, but it's a very strange problem for the gospel writers to have created for themselves unless he actually did exist and it was remembered that he did make this prediction.


(v) he was crucified by Pontius Pilate


Yet again, the idea that the Messiah was going to die or be executed is found nowhere in any of the pre-Christian Jewish material. In all of that material he is depicted purely as a triumphant figure who is victorious over Israel's enemies, not as a broken figure dying in agnony. Early Christianity, as I've explained in great detail before, had to find some contrived ways to "explain" how the humiliating death of their supposed Messiah was, in fact, what God intended all along. If the idea that he was executed was hard for them to explain away, the idea that he was crucified was even harder, since this was considered the most shameful, humiliating and ignominious of deaths. It was actually a massive obstacle to converts - Paul calls it "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" - so the idea that they would make this element up, despite this and despite it having no precedent in Messianic expectations, makes no sense. It's inclusion at the heart of the story only makes sense if it actually happened and they had to take account of it.

As for it being during the prefecture of Pilate, that is supported by the fact that it was a purely Roman form of execution and by both Josephus and Tacitus giving independent attestation to this element.

See? While that is a very bald summary of a mass of evidence and argument (and anyone here will be able to tell you that I can elaborate on any of those points at vast length and in intense detail) this is evidence-backed, cogent argument. It's also why the existence of a historical Jesus is accepted by virtually every scholar on earth - Christian, Jew, atheist or agnostic - and the idea he didn't is largely off on the sillier fringes of the internet, where all kooky theories flourish.
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby TimONeill » Sun Nov 22, 2009 2:27 am

Schmoo wrote:
Certainly. I didn't mean to implicate all atheists. But most "Jesus Never Existed" people come from the atheist crowd.


About 50% actually. The other half come from the pseudo-pagan New Age kook crowd. What both types have in common are (i) they have an axe to grind against Christianity that warps their judgement and (ii) they hate each other.
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby TimONeill » Sun Nov 22, 2009 2:34 am

Schmoo wrote:We have more early sources, independently attested, for the life of Jesus than just about any other figure in all of ancient history.


That's seriously overstating things. We have much more evidence for all kinds of people, though not surprisingly they are rather more important and famous people than some dirty peasant preacher from Galilee. And at best we have two independent sources for Jesus - Josephus and Tacitus - because the others that Christian apologists try to claim are not references to Jesus himself but to Christianity.

What we can say is that if we compare the evidence for Jesus to the evidence for all kinds of other Jewish preachers, prophets, faith healers and Messianic claimants, we have more for him than any of the others. Yet the Mythers doubt his existence but have no problem with theirs ... :ask: Can you say "bias"?
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby atDissenter » Sun Nov 22, 2009 2:53 am

No shit Sherlock? And your point in noting this most basic and elementary piece of information would be ... ?


:arghhh: Nice. Sounds like an angry troll under the proverbial bridge. Trolls think the bridge is theirs so it never occurs to trolls that, perhaps, others might feel this metaphorical bridge is big enough to share. Trolls typically try to clear the bridge of all competition. After doing so, when nobody else want's to argue the troll owns the bridge. That may be very gratifying for that angry troll under the bridge but it doesn't solve the debate.

Perhaps we can start over again?

I'm somewhat atheistic (not agnostic), liberal, white, male, 47 years old, married with two kids. I never trusted formal religion and never will. I think that Christianity is for people that need the trappings of religion to fulfill something they want in life. Finally, conversations about these topics are incredibly muddy and we can, at best, assume that we should be skeptical. I try to do that. And while I think there is evidence to suggest that Christ was really a community, I wouldn't be all that upended if this wasn't the truth. Frankly, I don't really care all that much. I am bothered fundaMENTAList views about religion and because of my ignorance of your position, I thought you were one of them.

That said,


RELAX!
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby TimONeill » Sun Nov 22, 2009 3:04 am

atDissenter wrote:Perhaps we can start over again?


If you're prepared to have a conversation about history that is based on evidence and cogent and logical arguments, certainly. Assertions backed by baseless speculation and hopeful supposition will be, as perhaps you've already gathered, less well received.

Finally, conversations about these topics are incredibly muddy and we can, at best, assume that we should be skeptical.


I am highly sceptical. But true scepticism simply analyses the evidence objectively, it doesn't start with a conclusion. I have absolutely no problem with the idea that Jesus didn't exist and if I ever come across a coherent argument along those lines that explains all the evidence better than the idea that a historical Jewish preacher is at the heart of the story I will, like a true sceptic, embrace it at once. But in over 25 years of examining the evidence and 15 years studying and critiquing Myther arguments, all I keep being served up is the same muddled, supposition-laden, biased, error-filled crap.

I try to do that. And while I think there is evidence to suggest that Christ was really a community, I wouldn't be all that upended if this wasn't the truth.


If there's evidence then present it. And then account for the consistent and parsimonious alternative that the stories are centred on a Jewish preacher. But you're going to be fighting an uphill battle to do the latter.

Frankly, I don't really care all that much. I am bothered fundaMENTAList views about religion and because of my ignorance of your position, I thought you were one of them.


That was clear. Hopefully you're starting to get a better grasp of my position. Considering it's a position shared by some of the best scholars and historians in the field, it's a position worth understanding. And the idea that Jesus was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher is a far better counter to the fundies anyway, not least because, unlike the "Jesus Myth" idea, it's a mainstream position that actually stands up to scrutiny.

RELAX!


Writing about history is what I do to relax. I'm having a ball here thanks.
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby atDissenter » Sun Nov 22, 2009 3:24 am

The evidence for this is ovewhelming, since virtually everything the Jesus in the gospels says, every parable he tells and every miracle he does is about or related to the common Jewish belief of the time that the "kingship of God is near at hand" and that God was about to smite the unrighteous and elevate the saved in a renewed world. But some of the things that Jesus says in the gospels were awkward for the gospel writers because he makes statements that were simply wrong. He is depicted in all three of the synoptics as saying "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things (ie the coming of the apocalyptic kingship of God) take place." (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32) That was simply wrong. Christians have been trying to explain this failed prophecy away ever since, but it's a very strange problem for the gospel writers to have created for themselves unless he actually did exist and it was remembered that he did make this prediction.


They each had their own style and axe to grind.

Matthew was speaking to a community of Greek-speaking Jews and was trying to tie Jesus in with King David. In many instances, it is probable that he couldn't know everything other communities were producing. Of course, where they shared stories, it's possible that those stories are either true or they are simply shared STORIES.

He was also writing during and after the destruction of the temple and was trying to give hope to a community of exiles so "his" motivation was to reconnect an exiled community with the past. If Jesus can be linked in as the Messiah, he would be "their man."

Historical facts didn't matter. What mattered, perhaps more than anything else, for "Matthew," was keeping the community together in a story of hope befitting the heir of King David.

Like the invention of Romulus and Remus, having a story is better than being truthful. Actually, truth didn't matter all that much.

Frankly, I don't really expect you have proof and I think there is enough in question to be a little more flexible on these point.
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby Tangerine Dream » Sun Nov 22, 2009 3:32 am

TimONeill wrote:
atDissenter wrote:
......
(ii) he was from Nazareth[/b]

See above. Not only is the fact that he was from Nazareth a feature of all versions of the stories but Nazareth itself appears, with Jesus being scorned and rejected there. This was clearly a problem for the gospel writers, because the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah was going to come from Bethlehem. So the writers of Matthew and Luke both tell stories to "explain" how a man who was known to be and who was depicted as being from Nazareth could actually have been born in Bethlehem. The problem is (i) their stories are riddled with historical problems that show they are inventions and (ii) they don't just totally contradict each other, they are set ten years apart and are mutually exclusive.....


Did Nazareth really exist ? According to http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/nazareth.html Nazareth was a town built by theologists.
If it is not much of a trouble , could you please shed some light on that ! Thank you
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby TimONeill » Sun Nov 22, 2009 3:36 am

atDissenter wrote:
The evidence for this is ovewhelming, since virtually everything the Jesus in the gospels says, every parable he tells and every miracle he does is about or related to the common Jewish belief of the time that the "kingship of God is near at hand" and that God was about to smite the unrighteous and elevate the saved in a renewed world. But some of the things that Jesus says in the gospels were awkward for the gospel writers because he makes statements that were simply wrong. He is depicted in all three of the synoptics as saying "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things (ie the coming of the apocalyptic kingship of God) take place." (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32) That was simply wrong. Christians have been trying to explain this failed prophecy away ever since, but it's a very strange problem for the gospel writers to have created for themselves unless he actually did exist and it was remembered that he did make this prediction.


They each had their own style and axe to grind.


Yet on his apocalyptic message in general and on this failed prophecy in particular they are entirely consistent.

Matthew was speaking to a community of Greek-speaking Jews and was trying to tie Jesus in with King David. In many instances, it is probable that he couldn't know everything other communities were producing. Of course, where they shared stories, it's possible that those stories are either true or they are simply shared STORIES.


That is plain wrong - they shared texts, not just "stories". Matthew's major source is Mark's gospel; about 70-75% of Matthew's text is directly from Mark, often word for word. Luke's major source is Mark as well; about 60% of its text, though slightly more paraphrased than Matthew's. And both seem to share other material in common that is so consistent in form and content that it is generally considered to have been a second, now lost text, referred to as Q.

The awkward element I mention above is found in Mark and taken from Mark into Luke and Matthew. The most logical explanation for its acceptance into the texts of all three writers, despite the fact its prediction is clearly wrong, is that it was a well-attested saying of Jesus that had been passed down for some time. It makes sense, therefore, that they would include it, despite its awkward implications. It doesn't make sense, however, that they would all make such an erroneous prediction up and put it in the mouth of their invented Messiah.

Historical facts didn't matter. What mattered, perhaps more than anything else, for "Matthew," was keeping the community together in a story of hope befitting the heir of King David.


Then why does their invented "heir of King David" fit the mould so badly? Why is he from the wrong town, requiring them to invent muddled stories about a census and a massacre? Why is he baptised by Joihn, requiring the later gospels to explain this away or edit it out? Why is he executed, when this was not the expectation of the Messiah at all? Why have him crucified when that then caused massive problems for potential converts and when it is found nowhere in any Messianic expectation or any other precedent?

It simply doesn't make sense that they invented a Messiah with all these problematic awkward elements. These elements only make sense in the story if they are historical and they are trying to shoehorn a historical man into the Messianic expectations.

Like the invention of Romulus and Remus,


It is absolutely nothing like the invention of Romulus and Remus. Not in any respect.
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Re: Did Jesus Exist? - II

Postby TimONeill » Sun Nov 22, 2009 3:40 am

Tangerine Dream wrote:Did Nazareth really exist ? According to http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/nazareth.html Nazareth was a town built by theologists.
If it is not much of a trouble , could you please shed some light on that ! Thank you


We've covered that kooky claim once in this thread but it keeps rearing its ugly head so I'll cover it again. This is a private theory by an amateur whose only background is as a piano teacher. But it was, bizarrely, recently championed by James Randi, so I'll post here the critique that I posted on Randi's forum earlier this year:

Tim O'Neill wrote:This is a classic example of some weak pseudo scholarship being accepted by people who should be more sceptical simply because it appeals to them. For some fellow atheists to do this is a worry, but not too surprising. But for someone like Randi to accept this silliness and to actively promote it is quite disturbing. He's precisely the kind of person that should have a nose for bogus misinformation being peddled by a crank, not someone actively advertising it.

For those who don't know me from elsewhere, I'm an atheist, secular humanist and sceptic of many years standing. I'm also a keen amateur historian with a degree in history and about 25 years of reading and research in ancient and medieval history under my belt, much of that to do with the origins and early history of Christianity. I learned how to discern "flim flam" (to use Randi's phrase) from real scholarship largely thanks to books and articles by people like Randi and Carl Sagan and am very grateful for the "baloney detection kit" these guys, along with my university lecturers and post-graduate mentors, gave me. That's why it's disturbing to see Randi supporting something that is so clearly hogwash.

Step One in sorting baloney from real scholarship is to begin with the proponent of the idea in question; in this case one Rene Salm. It's useful to look at who they are and, more importantly, what credentials, expertise and training they have. If this critique of the work of archaeologists was being done, for example, by a fellow archaeologist we'd have some justification to feel we were on safe ground. But Rene Salm is not an archaeologist, has no qualifications, training or experience in archaeology and has never so much as got his boots dirty in a dig. In fact, the only information available on Mr Salm is that he is a composer and former piano teacher.

So my Baloney Detection Alarm Bell is already starting to ring. Sceptics are used to seeing this phenomenon: a self-appointed, self-educated amateur with a radical theory here to tell us that he knows better than the experts. We see this with Creationism and various other kinds of crank and lunatic. Of course, just because Mr Salm is a piano teacher and not an archaeologist doesn't in himself make him wrong. So let's see what else we can use to determine if we are dealing with a legitimate piece of research here.

Step Two is to have a look at who is publishing the writer in question. If we see they are published by an academic press with a strong reputation for rigor and a peer review process, we have some assurance (not total, of course) that what we are looking at is mainstream work which, even if it isn’t by a professional scholar or credentialed expert, has at least been carefully scrutinized by people who are these things and given the thumbs up. Rene Salm fails this test as well – his book is published by the American Atheist Press. That’s a bit better than most of the works of this kind, which are usually published by vanity presses or print-on-demand self publishing services, but it’s not exactly the OUP either.

Step Three is to see if the writer in question is presenting an objective contribution to scholarship or has some kind of agenda, ideological stance or other ulterior motive. Yet again, Salm fails this test as well. Salm, it seems, has his own private theories about the origins of Christianity and its supposed links to Buddhism, having written a long online article on "[url="http://www.iid.org/publications/rfinal.pdf"]Buddhist and Christian Parallels[/url]" back in 2004. He also says that he is now working on a sequel to his book on the non-existence of Nazareth which he describes as "a new account of Christian origins that will investigate suppressed evidence of Gnostic, Judean, and Essene roots of Christianity." The claim that he has uncovered "suppressed evidence" is something else that should set any sceptic's Kook Theorist Alarm jangling.

Step Four is to see how the writer's ideas have been received in the relevant field or fields and see how many relevant scholars they have been able to convince. As you've probably guessed by now, Salm fails this one too. He's managed to convince no archaeologists that the accepted idea that Nazareth was inhabited in the Second Temple Period and no archaeologist holds that opinion to him either. His position has zero acceptance in the field in which he's trying to dabble.

So, by this stage, many of you could be be wondering why the hell Randi is endorsing this guy. Could it be that, despite his complete lack of credentials, training, experience and expertise in archaeology, despite the fact his book has not been peer reviewed, despite his clear ulterior agenda and despite the total non-acceptance of his position by anyone in a position to judge its viability, he still has a solid case?

Well, actually, no.

Salm is a dabbler who started out with his own conclusion - that Nazareth didn't exist - inspired by his personal fringe theories about the common origins of Christianity and Buddhism and who then set out to nitpick the work of real professionals in the field in an attempt to show that they are all wrong and he - the piano teacher - knows better than they do. By nitpicking at the work of the real archaeologists who have done field work on the site, arguing against their dating of structures and finds and redating some of their material Salm has managed to construct a thesis whereby Nazareth was inhabited in the Hellenistic Period, uninhabited in the Roman Period up to the Second Century (ie conveniently jumping the period of Jesus)
and was then suddenly inhabited again from the Second Century.

A central plank of his case depends on the dating of Roman Period tombs on the site, which he claims date to later than the experts believe. Unfortunately for Salm the most recent and most comprehensive work on the typology of these types of tombs flatly contradicts his amateurish attempts at dating them - Rachel Hachlili’s Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period (2005) is now the standard work on these types of burials and Hachlili's classification identifies several of the Nazareth tombs as being clearly "Type 1" style, ie from the First Century AD.

Salm also tries to pour cold water on the dating of pottery from the site and makes the remarkable claim that "two- and three-inch fragments of pottery vessels are a precarious basis indeed for fixing the type and date of an artefact" (p. 125); an assertion that professional archaeologists would regard with mild amusement.

These two points are key, because Salm's attempt at dating all the material in the tombs to "after the middle of the first century CE" depends on his use of an earlier typology for dating kokhim tombs, which allows him to dismiss most of the evidence that contradicts his thesis at one swipe, since most of it comes from those tomb sites. As he says gleefully "(t)his simple maneuver alone removes 90% of the evidence alleged for the putative town of Nazareth at the turn of the era!" Any finds from these tombs, he argues, which could be dated to the early First Century - and there are juglets and oil lamps that can be - must, according to Salm, be dated to the later end of their range. Except the typology outlined by Hachlili and followed by actual archaeologists contradicts this and Salm's thesis collapses in a heap.

Salm has been banging on about this stuff online for years, peddling it first on various online fora, then on his nazarethmyth.info website and finally, thanks to the American Atheist Press, in this book. Except no archaeologist agrees with him. Naturally he (and, weirdly, Randi) attributes this to some vast Christian conspiracy. Strangely, he never explains clearly how this conspiracy has managed to entangle the Israeli Antiquities Authority or Jewish archaeologists like Nurit Feig and Zvi Yavnor.

Nor can Salm's conspiracy claims explain the recent roasting he received at the hands of Dr Ken Dark of the University of Reading, an archaeologist and specialist in the Early Byzantine Period who has been excavating in Nazareth for the last five years. Dark reviewed Salm's book in the latest edition of the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society (Volume 26, 2008, pp. 140-146) which, despite being couched in the polite terms of British academe, is scathing in its criticism of an amateur trying to second-guess real experts. Dark concludes:

(D)espite initial appearances, this is not a well-informed study and
ignores much evidence and important published work of direct relevance. The basic premise is faulty, and Salm’s reasoning is often weak and shaped by his
preconceptions. Overall, his central argument is archaeologically unsupportable.

(Dark, p. 145)

So not only is there not an archaeologist on the planet who has come to the same conclusions as Salm, but his work has been reviewed by real archaeologists and found baseless.

Which brings me back to the question: what the hell is Randi doing supporting this amateur crank? We have qualified archaeologists, many of them Jewish and all of them professionals publishing in peer reviewed journals, and Randi expects us to believe a piano teacher over them? Seriously? In the video above he makes a great deal of the silly Christian tourism traps and pilgrimage bait at Nazareth and then makes out that the non-experts associated with them are the only ones who uphold the idea Nazareth was inhabited in Jesus' time; totally ignoring all the Jewish archaeologists who believe the same thing. He scorns the fundie Christians associated with the Nazareth Village Resort circus saying that "none of them (are) archaeologists, ignoring the fact that Salm is not an archaeologist either and that no actual archaeologists agree with him.

I never thought I'd see the day that Randi - the smiter of amateur cranks - would be championing a kook like Rene Salm. I guess it shows that "flim flam" all depends on your biases.
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