Monday, January 16, 2017

Good Riddance, Barack Obama (Reply to The Seattle Times)

The Seattle Times thinks Barack Obama made America better, and is sorry to see him go:


Image result for don't let door hit you
"Thought we wouldn't recognize you in a beard, huh?"
"President Obama leaves office this week with a remarkable legacy already intact.  He exits with grace, eloquence and optimism, his administration unblemished by scandal.  The economy is humming for much of America.  The US standing in the world is vastly improved.  He bent the arc of history toward justice. . . . Obama had an unsurpassed capacity to encourage the better angels of our nature.  The contrast this week between his farewell and his successor's first news conference was bitter and stark. 

"The Seattle Times editorial board in 2008 was the first major newspaper to endorse Obama for the general election.   Despite being young, he had the intelligence, steady temperament and thoughtful policy ideas to lead.  He proved that, and more.  

"He will be sorely missed."

Not by me, he won't.  Nor by much of the rest of the world -- aside from the more astute of our enemies.

While I don't know how the new president will fare, I will be delighted to see Barrack Obama walk out of the White House, hopefully never to set foot in it again.  (Though may he live long and come to repent of the evil he has done his homeland, and the haughty arrogance and self-righteous preening with which he has done it, and which the gullible mistake for "grace.")

Good riddance to a president who has "accomplished" all of the following, without the editorial staff of The Seattle Times deigning to notice:

(1)   Barack Obama has added nine TRILLION dollars to our national debt.  This is what Obama said when George Bush was responsible for increasing the debt by less than half that amount:

“The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion dollars for the first 42 presidents -- number 43 added $4 trillion dollars by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion dollars of debt that we are going to have to pay back -- $30,000 for every man, woman and child . . . ”

The eloquent, optimistic Barack Obama, after appealing to the "better angels of our nature" by savaging the previous president for adding four trillion to what we and our children are going to have to pay, turned around and added nine trillion more.  (Which the ever-classy Nancy Pelosi also blames Bush for, of course.)

That's another $30,000 per man, woman and child in addition to what the first 44 presidents added.  Barack Obama has thus saddled my family alone with an extra $120,000 of debt to the Bank of China and other entities.  He never even tried do a deal with the Republicans to bring the deficit down or pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, of course.  He scoffed at the Republicans, telling them "Elections have consequences!"

Boy, did that one.

Thanks for putting my family much further in debt to the Bank of China.  Don't let the door hit your hypocritical backside on the way out.

(2)  Shouldn't nine trillion dollars in excess spending buy more "economic humming" than we have actually seen in the past eight years?  Bush's prompt policies ended the "Great Recession" before Obama's policies had a chance to take effect.  We then endured a "recovery" such that, four years later, most Americans thought we were still in a recession.  Growth failed to hit 3% per year over the full course of Obama's presidency, even once.  Why does the Seattle Times suppose the stock market went "rockets red glare" mode after Donald Trump won the election?

(3) And can we credit Barack Obama even for the economic good that happened these past eight years?  The hottest segments of the economy were oil and tech.  Obama promised to lessen our dependence on oil, and his people even promised that gasoline prices would go up.  He failed to keep that promise, despite keeping a tight rein on public oil leases (which declined), because the private sector kept on inventing new technologies like fracking that caused US oil and gas output to soar.   During the last election cycle, Obama said scornfully:

"You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill and step three is keep drilling . . . Anyone who tells you we can drill our way out of this problem doesn’t know what they’re talking about – or isn’t telling you the truth.”

Guess what?  While public lands yielded less oil, the American petroleum industry did drill, drill, and drill (and frack), no thanks to a president who scoffed at that plan.  (So much for "grace" and "optimism.")  And what resulted?  Great affluence in Texas, North Dakota, and other drilling states.  (Which of course spilled out to other states.)  And (with fearful help from the Saudis, who wanted to drive American producers out of business, among other goals), the very two dollar gas in the rest of the country that Barack Obama scoffed at.  (As low as 1.85 in New Jersey, until new taxes hit, and in southern Republican states.)  

So who knew what they were talking about?  Who was telling us the truth?  Not Barack Obama.  

How about the tech sector?  The Seattle Times offices lie within walking distance of the growing Amazon campus for reporters with a one-hour lunch period, though the new Expedia campus is a bit further.  Jump in a car, and in a few minutes they could reach Google and Microsoft.  Can the Times pretend that Seattle's own tech boom owes anything to Barack Obama's policies?  Would Amazon be less inventive under a Republican president?  Amazon promises to add another 100, 000 jobs in the US in the next few years -- never mind Obama's exit.  Meanwhile, unions with which the Democrats are affiliated, drove quite a few excellent Boeing jobs out of town, and probably the company headquarters, too.  They moved to -- though this is rather shortsighted (see 5 below) -- Chicago.

(4)  Did President Obama "bend the arc of history towards justice?"  Or did he rip the blindfold off of Lady Justice and  made her work the streets?  Did he turn the "Department of Justice" into a Banana Republic office from which to shield his supporters?  Did his minions abuse the IRS to attack conservative organizations?

(5) Barack Obama helped poison race relations and harmed American cities, beginning with Chicago.  Surveys show that eight years ago most Americans thought relations between the races (meaning especially black and white) were pretty good.  According to Gallup, race relations these past two years are seen by both blacks and whites as being worse than they have been, at least since 2001.

How did Barack Obama help accomplish that turn-around?  By lending support to the racist cop-hating organization, Black Lives Matter.  Violent attacks on police, even stalkings and ambushes, have surged in America, with 76 killed by deliberate gunfire, a knife attack, or vehicular assault. (As opposed to 47 in the previous year in the same categories.)  Meanwhile, officers have been pressured to back off on aggressive policing, which has led directly to the deaths of hundreds of blacks, especially young black men, in inner cities.

270 more murders were committed in Chicago alone in 2016, than in 2015.   This has been while Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, served as mayor of the city.  Liberal policies have been fingered as the causative agent:

"2016's surge in murders and shootings, coupled with a decline in gun seizures, led former Police Superintendent John Escalante to express concerns in March 2016 that officers might be hesitant to engage in proactive policing due to fear of retribution. Officers anonymously reported to the Chicago Sun-Times that they have been afraid to make investigatory stops because the Justice Department and American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois have been scrutinizing police practices. Data of the supposed pullback was reflected with an 80 percent decrease in the number of street stops that officers made since the beginning of 2016. Dean Angelo has claimed that part of the problem is politicians and groups like the ACLU who don't know much about policing, and yet are "dictating what police officers do."

The Department of Justice, of course, has been run by Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.

What Barack Obama and his allies seem to be doing, through such policies, is turning America's third-largest city into another Detroit.  (Which under Democratic leadership, plunged in population from 2 million to some 600,000.)  As crime increases in cities like Chicago, the middle class will flee the city.  Already early last year, among American cities, Chicago saw the most rich people leaving the city, many citing high crime rates.  As the full import of 2016's disastrous return of violent crime kicks in, one can expect the flight to increase and move down the earnings ladder.  From 2010 to 2015, Chicago grew by less than 1% (while the nation as a whole grew by 3%.)  Another year or two of Obama - Emanuel "blame the cops" approach to policing, and the city may fall into a vicious cycle of Detroit-like decline.  The more successful people leave, the more vulnerable those remaining will feel, and the more desperate the city, losing revenue and political support for sane policies, becomes.

Nor it is just Chicago.  Thanks in large part to Barack Obama's diffident, passive-aggressive "support" for the police, Baltimore has also experienced a surge in murders, Wikipedia notes:

"The city recorded a total of 344 homicides in 2015, a number second only to the number recorded in 1993 when the population was 100,000 higher. This was the highest murder rate on a per capita basis ever recorded."

But with Barack Obama heading out the door, Chicago and other American cities may finally stand a chance.

So much for Obama making America better.  So much for the arc of history bending towards justice.  In fact, the arc of bullet fire is bending towards young black men in Chicago and other inner cities, and the arc of prosperity is heading towards the tank.

(6) The Obama Administration has been "unblemished by scandal?"  What the Times means is that they and their kiss-up comrades in the public media have refused to pay attention the series of acute, perhaps unprecedented, scandals that have occurred under Barack Obama's watch (which is a first-order scandal in itself):

(a) Here's a great idea!  Let's give Mexican drug lords more guns, then see who they kill!  No doubt the number will include Mexicans and American enforcement agents, but no pain, no gain. Eric Holder was held in Contempt of Congress for trying to cover up this epic botch-up.  No scandal to see here!

(b) Allowing the American consulate in Benghazi get attacked and destroyed, with the consul killed in the attack, while American forces refused to budge even to try to protect them, was not a scandal?  Nor that the administration repeatedly tried to blame the attack on an obscure video, even though they themselves knew that it was not the cause?

(c) Nor was it a scandal that Barack Obama claimed "you can keep your policies" and doctors to get his health care program passed, even though he knew those were lies?

(d) It was also no scandal, how the Obama Administration rewrote the health care act, without getting approval from Congress to authorize changes?

(e) Using the IRS to attack conservative groups was not a scandal?  Seems to me that sort of thing was considered rather disreputable under Richard Nixon.

(e) Hilary Clinton's numerous lies about her secret server, which allowed foreign spy agencies access to top-secret material, and Barack Obama's own lies claiming that he hadn't known about her secrets, are not a scandal?  Maybe not to the Seattle Times.

But listing them all would be tedious.  Here is a list of eighteen serious scandals during the Obama Administration.  To The Seattle Times, even when people are killed and the nation's safety is palpably compromised, all of these are apparently tempests in teapots or mere Republican (or in this case, Breitbart) disinformation campaigns.  But if you don't care for Breitbart (and I don't, much), here's another telling list of Obama scandals.  Kevin Williamson correctly writes:

"Not only was the Obama administration marked by scandal of the most serious sort — perverting the machinery of the state for political ends — it was on that front, which is the most important one, the most scandal-scarred administration in modern presidential history."

What these scandals demonstrate, is that Hillary Clinton was not the only or highest-ranked person in this administration to frequently tell gross falsehoods in pursuit of dubious political ends.  Barack Obama may be "graceful" on the basketball court, and even as a public speaker, but he is also a practiced twister of truth.  Yet it may be that the "see no evil" attitude of the supposed journalists at institutions like The Seattle Times is the greatest scandal of all, these eight years.  They got Obama elected and re-elected by their unwillingness to tell plain if inconvenient truths.  We need honesty from our journalists, but instead all we got was "no scandal to see here!"

(7)  What about Obama's "signature achievement," The (heh) Affordable Health Care Act?   True, it turns out that if you fine everyone who doesn't buy health care insurance (not health care itself), more people will buy the stuff.  Why not just shoot those of us who still refuse to purchase policies?  I bet that would spread coverage (along with hemoglobin) even more broadly.  After all, if moderate force (and immoderate lies) are good in this worthy cause, why not immoderate force, and then perhaps we can moderate the lies?

Image result for strawberryStrawberries are good for you!  Why don't we tar and feather everyone who refuses to buy strawberries!  I bet that would increase strawberry sales!  "President Obama increased strawberry sales by 1000%!"  Think what a headline that would make!

Meanwhile, speaking of headlines, has the fiscal and physical health of the nation improved under Barack Obama?  How's this for a cheerful headline from yesterday?

US life expectancy falls, as many kinds of death increase

Sounds a little grim, doesn't it?  As in Grim Reaper?  "Many kinds of death" increase.  One would think that successful health policies would lead to less death, not more, right?  

We've paid a lot of money, or our children will, after we borrowed it from the Bank of China, for a system that does not seem to be working.  We've arguably violated the Constitution, certainly any serious notion of freedom, by forcing individuals to buy something that many don't want.  And this is our return on all this investment: "many kinds of death increase."  (Not just murders in Chicago and other "New Detroits.")  In addition, premiums and deductables have also gone up for many Americans, doubling and tripling in many cases.  

So when forced to buy coverage, more people are "covered."  But more people are also dying . 

And The Seattle Times responds in a lusty chorus, "Always look on the bright side of life."  (At least, until a Republican is sworn into office.  That's what they teach in Journalism School, these days.)  

(8) But at least the US standing in the world is "greatly improved," the Times tells us.  

We pause to note one genuine accomplishment for the State of Washington during the Obama Administration: it is now legal to smoke recreational pot in our fine state.  And apparently journalists at The Seattle Times have been availing themselves of this new freedom.  

(9) Compared to eight years ago, China is far stronger, and America weaker, relatively speaking.   Officially, China has now reached about 60% of America's GDP, and continues to grow rapidly. Unofficially, I suspect they have already surpassed us economically.  Perhaps Seattle Times editorial writers should be given offices facing west.  Few people in East Asia doubt that American stature has shrunk dramatically over the past eight years, while that of China has risen.  

(10) Which is why the Philippines did an about-face, and has begun to flirt at an alliance with China, while downgrading its prior friendship with the US. 

(11) China has developed new bases in the South China Sea, winning over one of our erstwhile allies, and threatening those that remain in the region.  China's military continues to strengthen, including by stealing American secrets.  Has the rise of China improved America's standing in the world?  Or the fact that, as Obama recognized before he became president, national debt means, in some part, debt to China and other business partners with whom we enjoy an ambivalent relationship?  

(12) North Korea has continued to develop nuclear weapons and rockets to place them on, on Obama's watch.  How is America's standing "greatly improved" when a mad tyrant will soon be able to vaporize major American cities -- with The Seattle Times as potential ground zero?  And what did Barack Obama do to solve that problem?  (Nagging people does not count.)  

(13) Vladimir Putin has frequently expressed his contempt for Barack Obama.  And why shouldn't he?  Despite much hand-wringing on Obama's part, Putin got away with swiping a good chunk of the Ukraine.  Perhaps no president could have prevented that.  But given Obama's many overtures to Russia when he came to office, neither can Russia's literal geographic expansion be counted as evidence of America's supposed "increased stature" under Obama.  

(14) Obama's policies in the prolonged "hot war" of his presidency, the uncivil war in Syria, have proven an utter debacle.  While demanding that Assad be removed, and promising that bombs would fall from heaven if Assad used chemical weapons, Obama has proven indecisive and impotent to prevent massive civilian casualties, overthrow Assad, support any "good guys" at least of Man of No Name decency or above, stop the war, keep a far more decisive Russia from entering the Middle East and actually accomplishing its goals, or keep ISIS from ruling a good chunk of the country. 

Obama has been an utter failure in Syria, and that failure is clear to almost everyone in the world who doesn't work in a liberal newsroom.  Our friends have been disconcerted and our enemies heartened by Obama's impotence as the president has been completely schooled, again and again, by America's enemies.   

(15)  Among those enemies, of course the steady rise of Iran, which has killed hundreds or thousands of Americans by various means, is among the most troubling.  Even when Iran captured American sailors and forced them to kneel, even when Iran promises to destroy Israel, Obama has not ceased to suck up to our many-times proven enemies.  The result?  A deal which gave Iran tens of billions of dollars (much of it in cash!), freedom to continue financing terrorists, and the long-term goal of developing nukes, even if on paper at least, they are supposed to go easy on spinning centrifuges for a few years.  

If Iran's status in the Middle East has grown, and it has along with Russia's, how can America's status not have diminished?  

(16) Barack Obama brags about his diplomacy, yet even after America's tremendous expenditure in blood and treasure in Iraq, Obama failed to work a deal with Iraq whereby America could keep troops in-country.  Instead of, say, 20,000 troops, Obama suggested we station three thousand American troops in Iraq.  The Iraqis recognized Obama's weakness, and America got nothing for all its pains and expenses.  

Thus ISIS was the puppy dog that followed Obama home.  "Can we keep it?"  America in effect kept ISIS by backing out of Iraq ignobly, even after Bush and Petreus, and tens of thousands of valiant American soldiers and allies, had finally defeated our enemies in Iraq.  

ISIS decimated the peoples and cultures of the region, enslaving thousands, murdering tens of thousands, killed Christians and other religious minorities, and destroying some of humanity's cultural heritage.  This weed ought never to have been allowed to flourish.  It was the weak standing of an America led by the self-confident but incompetent Barack Obama, which allowed ISIS to succeed in its campaign of desolation for so long.  

(17) At the end of his presidency, our only true friend in the Middle East, Israel, is glad to see Barack Obama go.  This includes not just Netanyahu, whom Obama seems to hate with a passion, but ordinary Israelis as well.  In a recent poll, Israelis were asked which president has been WORST for Israel.  The "winner" of that poll was Barack Obama, who by himself "won" 63% of the votes.  (Jimmy Carter came in second, with 16%.  And that's even though 12% said they didn't know.  No Republican exceeded 4%. )  
Clearly, America's stature in Israel, which now has an empowered Iran and chaotic Syria and Iraq to worry about, has not "improved," but gotten far worse.  

(18) Turkey has also left our de facto alliance, to some extent, and begun to befriend a resurgent Russia.  More evidence of America's "vastly improved" status?  

(19)  Libya having been cowed into behaving itself by fear of George Bush, Barack Obama betrayed the country, and it descended into a chaotic state of uncivil war, punctuated by periods of reloading called "ceasefires."  Obama modestly describes his Libyan cluster-screw up as the "greatest mistake" of his presidency.  It was certainly one of them, but only number 19 on this list.  

(20) So where is America's status vastly heightened, if not in East Asia, Eastern Europe or the Middle East?  In South Asia, Africa or Latin America, I don't think America's status has changed much.  Except that now China is building ports and trains around Africa and developing its minerals.  Perhaps America is now more popular with the communist thugs who still run tiny Cuba, now that Obama has normalized relations with the country, little good that has done its people.  Perhaps the crooks who have run Venezuala into the ground on Obama's watch, so that toilet paper and food alike have become scarce items, and women sell their hair at border markets, think fondly on Obama's legacy of neglect and toadying to tyrants.  Though I doubt it: as Putin demonstrates, Obama's signature recipe of sucking up, scolding, followed by vain threats and petulant insults, does not seem to endure him even to those who benefit from it.  

So has America gained a far higher status in Western Europe?

It is true that European elites fell for Barack Obama when he was first elected.  He was young, cool, and black, and also a Democrat who clearly recognized the many sins of America.  

The idea of Obama did indeed make the hearts of European social democrats flutter.  The Norwegians gave him a Nobel Peace Prize.  They were even selling Obama calendars in the Borders bookstore on Cornmarket in Oxford!  That was just before the Middle East descended, again, into a charnel house of ashen hopes.  Obama also empowered many of the world's tyrants (Putin, Xi Jinping, the Kim family, Castro, Iran, Venezuala).  Borders went broke, too.    

Now Western Europe has bigger things to worry about.  

There is the prowling bear to the east, which Obama has empowered by his incompetence and weakness.  The Polish president noted in 2012: 

“Our mistake was that by accepting the American offer of a shield we failed to take into account the political risk associated with a change in president. We paid a high political price. We do not want to make the same mistake again.”

There is the invasion of western Europe by millions of young Muslim men, who may mostly want to gain better lives, but seemingly on their own terms.  (Including by abusing and even gang-raping thousands of European women.  Obama, of course, is gung-ho for importing more Muslim "refugees" to the United States.)  

There is Britain's fitful exit from the European Union.  

And of course, Western Europe is also aware of China's dramatic rise, and the fact that America has declined dramatically, relative speaking, during the presidency of Barack Obama.  

So no, America's standing in the world is not "vastly improved," unless the penguins in Antarctica are impressed.  America's status has tanked, aside from tech and energy advances that owe nothing to the Obama Administration.  Oil development has, indeed, liberated America from the fear of Saudi blackmail, and weakened some of our enemies for a while.  But Barack Obama simply scoffed at that notion.    

President Obama, then, has done little good and much harm to America, even to black Americans, and has profoundly crippled America's status in the world over the past eight years.  He has shown himself self-righteous, petulant, and contemptuous of patriot Americans who disagree with him, even while naively welcoming and affirming of our enemies, treacherous towards our allies, and ineffectual and incompetent at projecting American power.  (Or even making good use of past American sacrifices in the pursuit of worthy goals.)  

So don't let the door hit you on the way out, Mr. Ex-President. 

Maybe you can get a job writing editorials for  the post-journalistic era Seattle Times.   

Now we turn to the no-less self-satisfied, but somewhat more accomplished Donald Trump, and hope he is as wholehearted in pursuing America's interests and values as he claims, and not quite as nutty and self-absorbed as he often sounds.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Epic Rap Battle: Jesus vs. Alexander the Great (And Matthew Ferguson)

Yesterday morning I received the following request from (I believe) a college student on the US East Coast named Nick:
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Hi David. You seem to have had a lot of interaction with Matthew Ferguson. I seem to find him more substantial than most internet atheists (at least better than some Patheos writers like Mehta and GiD), but it looks like you've identified some patterns that expose his lack of understanding. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind helping me, in an example like the one I've attached, what are some problems that you find? Thanks.
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True enough, Ferguson and I have had "a lot of interaction," unfortunately not always amicable!  But Nick is also right in describing Matthew's posts as generally "substantial."  Last I heard, Matthew was a doctoral candidate in the Classics, and he has read widely (if not always well, I have argued), in primary and in secondary literature.

I devote a chapter of my new book, Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels, to one of Ferguson's on-line arguments, an analogy he draws between an ancient work called the Contest of Hesiod and Homer, and the canonical gospels.  Despite the sparks that have flowed between us, I find the epic search for parallel gospels on which he journeys in that article, interesting and useful.  If you find your neighbor digging up your pumpkin patch looking for his car keys, at the very least that shows the keys have gone missing, or he wouldn't go to such trouble!  And the fact that skeptical scholars keep looking for Jesus doubles in books like Life of Apollonius of Tyana, the "Gospel" of Thomas, and Contest of Hesiod and Homer, also helps demonstrate that genuine analogies to the historical Jesus are rare as double-horned unicorns, or they wouldn't keep looking for "Jesus" in all such bizarre places.

But Ferguson's on-line articles do show reading and some originality, and critics can be useful for their helpful challenges as well as salutary errors.

So let's analyze the essay Nick cites, which compares the evidence for Alexander the Great to that for Jesus of Nazareth.  While the title makes it sound like a neutral exercise in historiography, in itself is worth considering, in fact Ferguson's goal here is (as usual) to debunk arguments for the Christian faith.

This is a long article, so I shall quote and summarize when helpful, offering critical response along the way (twenty points altogether), and inserting ". . . " where I have cut.

"When Do Contemporary or Early Sources Matter in Ancient History,"

by Matthew Ferguson

One of the most misunderstood methodological issues that surrounds debates over the historical Jesus is the relevance of contemporary or early written sources to reconstructing a reliable biography of Jesus’ life. Very often comparisons are made to other historical figures, such as Alexander the Great, who (allegedly) do not have any contemporary sources for their lives, despite the reliability of our historical information about them.  Apologists thus argue that the lack of contemporary sources for Jesus, (1) and the fact that all ancient writings that mention Jesus date to a gap of decades or centuries after his death, do not make the historical Jesus more obscure or less knowable than other famous figures from antiquity.
1.  The word "contemporary" here may be misleading.  When a young man dies, and his friends or their immediate disciples write biographies afterwards, are they "contemporaries?"  I would say yes.  That is the only relevant meaning of the word -- I was my father's "contemporary" in the sense that we shared more than 50 years on Earth, and therefore remember him well.  Richard Bauckham seems to have persuaded many top-notch scholars that the gospels may indeed have been written by Jesus' "contemporaries" in that sense, which is the only relevant sense.  I offer what I believe is copious evidence which confirms that his theory is right, in Jesus is No Myth. 
In which case, the premises of this article are shaky from the get-go.  
As I exposed in apologist Lee Strobel’s interview with Craig Blomberg in The Case for Christ, this mistake is usually made by apologists confusing the earliest extant sources (those that have survived medieval textual transmission) with the earliest sources that were written (and available to subsequent historians) in antiquity. Strobel and Blomberg, for example, thought that Plutarch and Arrian (writing 400 years after Alexander) were the earliest biographers of his life [2], when actually the biographer Callisthenes of Olynthus was an eyewitness contemporary to Alexander, who traveled with him during his campaigns. Callisthenes’ biography is still partially preserved in fragments, which are read, studied, and used for information today by modern historians in edited volumes, such as Felix Jacoby’s Fragments of the Greek Historians. There were also several other contemporary and eyewitness historians who recorded Alexander’s deeds, such as Anaximenes of LampsacusAristobulus of CassandreiaEumenes, and Nearchus, among others. 
2. That Arrian used sources, is well-known and obvious -- he makes a point of it himself.  I am sure Craig Blomberg, who is an eminent New Testament scholar whom it is presumptuous to describe merely as an "apologist," is well aware of that fact.  In the linked article, Ferguson quotes him merely as saying:

“The two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than four hundred years after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., yet historians consider them to be generally trustworthy . . .”
No doubt what Blomberg meant, was not the earliest biographies written, but the earliest now available.  That would make sense for Blomberg's point: Luke is far earlier than Arrian, which helps, but like Arrian, he too said he had many earlier sources.  So being written in, say, 80 AD, would not really be a problem - less so for Luke than for Arrian, since Luke could have tracked down eyewitnesses, and almost certainly did.  Advantage, Luke not Arrian.  More on Luke's strong epistemological advantage below.

I am not going to ask Dr. Blomberg if that is indeed what he meant, though he has usually been kind enough to answer my inquiries, because frankly that interpretation of his words is so obvious that I would be embarrassed to bring up the question.   A little more charity in reading would help, here.  
On the other hand, skeptics can often be overly skeptical in arguing that an absence of contemporary sources implies the non-existence of the person or event in question. For example, I do not consider it a good argument that Jesus did not exist, simply because nobody wrote about him until several decades after his death.(3)  The fact is that there were many poor and illiterate people in the ancient world that nobody wrote a single text about, but who still historically existed. Nevertheless, the absence of contemporary sources for Jesus does make the details of his life considerably more obscure, legendary, and irretrievable to historians.(4)  As such, the lack of contemporary or early written sources is not irrelevant to the debate of reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus.
(3) I agree that the alleged lack of earlier sources for the gospels would be a very bad argument, not just because the logic is poor, but because the premise is unwarrented.  It is possible that the disciples took notes even as Jesus preached, say, the Sermon on the Mount.  Maybe that's the truth behind the the Q hypothesis.

More importantly, we're talking about human beings, not may flies.  Almost every human being over 50 readily recalls key events in their lives from "several decades" earlier.  As with every mobile revolutionary movement, Jesus' followers would have been mostly younger than him, and many would have been merely in their late 50s or 60s when the first gospels were written.  So not only would "the gospels were written decades after Jesus' death, so he never lived" be an awful historical argument, so would "so cannot have been intimate first-hand accounts."

I actually conducted the sort of biographical exercise that I conceive the evangelists as carrying out, after my father passed away several years ago.  Some of the events I researched had occurred not just 40 years earlier, as perhaps the case with Mark, but up to 70 years earlier.  I still found rich resources to draw upon.  I'll discuss that experience below.  
(4) Anyway, the alleged "absence of contemporary sources" is a highly questionable, and questioned, assumption, not a fact as Ferguson presents it.  I would call it an error.  
So, when do contemporary or early sources matter in ancient history? As discussed above, this is a complex methodological issue, so spelling out some of the main criteria, and explaining how they are relevant to the problems of later myth-making, is now in order.
The first distinction that should always be made in discussing the contemporary sources that exist for a particular person or event is between: 1) those sources that are still fully extant, and 2) those sources that no longer survive, but are still partially preserved in titles, quotations, and fragments:

1) The fact is that most of the literature that was produced in antiquity has been lost over time.  Ancient Greek and Latin literature was originally written on papyrus scrolls, which had a shelf life of about 300 years or so (Scribes and Scholars, pg. 34).  As such, when copies were not made of a particular manuscript, it would gradually deteriorate over time until eventually being lost.  Classicists now estimate that approximately 95-99% of all literature produced in antiquity was lost in this way.

There was, however, a major exception to this trend: Christian texts, and particularly those of the New Testament.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, church monks took over the process of transmitting and preserving ancient texts.  Not surprisingly, these monks had a greater interest in preserving Christian texts over Pagan ones.  Accordingly Reynolds and Wilson (Scribes and Scholars, pg. 34) explain: “There can be be little doubt that one of the major reasons for the loss of classical texts is that most Christians were not interested in reading them, and hence not enough new copies of the texts were made to ensure their survival in an age of war and destruction.”

Often apologists like to emphasize the fact that vastly more manuscripts of the New Testament have come down from antiquity than other ancient texts. I have already explained in my article “Leveling a Mountain of Manuscripts with a Small Scoop of Context” the methodological reasons why the larger quantity of manuscripts for the NT has absolutely nothing to do with the historical reliability of the NT.(5)  But furthermore, these apologists often ignore the historical context behind why more of these texts exist. The primary reason why is because more effort was put into copying and preserving Christian texts during the medieval period. 

(5) I tend to agree that the sheer number of (especially late) manuscripts is not as important as some people make it out to be.   What is far more impressive, is the number of very early sources for Jesus, and the sheer volume of early citations of the New Testament documents in the works of the church fathers.  We're talking about texts written centuries before anything that can be called the "medieval period."  

2) Despite the sample bias that exists in the surviving corpus of ancient texts that have come down from the medieval period, there was a much greater body of Pagan literature that existed in antiquity.  In the case of Alexander the Great, there was the Great Library of Alexandria, among other libraries, which preserved numerous biographies of Alexander’s life written by contemporary eyewitnesses.  These biographies could be accessed by later writers in antiquity, so that later historians (even when writing 400 years after Alexander’s death) did not have to rely on a process of telephone. (6)

(6)  True.  And neither, I show, did Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  In fact they couldn't have employed a method of transmission analogous to Telephone or Chinese Whispers, at least not on Bart Erhman's model, or Palestinian Jewish names would not have been preserved so accurately in the gospels as they are. (See Jesus is No Myth, 52-55)

As such, when it comes to the reliability of later biographers, such as Plutarch and Arrian, it is important to remember that they had access to these earlier works.  Moreover, unlike the authors of the Gospels, Plutarch and Arrian extensively quote and interact with their earlier materials, as I explain in my article “Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament.”  For example, the biographer Plutarch, as historian J. Powell explains in “The Sources of Plutarch’s Alexander” (pg. 229), quotes no fewer than 24 earlier sources by name in his Life of Alexander.  In contrast, the Gospel of Luke does not provide the name of a single written source that the author consulted.  This is a vastly important issue to consider when assessing the reliability of these texts and their relation to contemporary evidence. (7)

(7)  No, it is not.  It is a trivial issue.  Both men had sources.  Luke was centuries closer to the facts, so some of his sources were probably disciples or relatives of Jesus.  Luke chose not to disclose his sources.  Neither did the authors of the Analects of Confucius, or much of Chinese history.  This has not ruined Chinese history, or rendered the Analects incredible. 

Perhaps, as Bauckham suggests, this is because the evangelists would have endangered sources to reveal their names.  And yet in Acts of the Apostles, hundreds of facts Luke mentions, have been confirmed in other ancient sources.  So his accuracy has been independently confirmed.  

Nor can we rely on a text simply because it claims sources.  That is, in fact, a favorite trope of ancient fiction.  Philostratus reveals his main source for Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a fellow-traveler of Apollonius' named Damis.  But Damis is probably a fictional character, from a city that no longer existed, inserted into the story to ask stock questions.  (As do "disciples" in the so-called "Gnostic gospels.")  Many ancient novels begin with the author meeting some random person on an island while gazing at a painting, or some such gambit, and then hearing the story that follows from that "source."  Ancient novelists thus frequently "revealed their (pretend) sources."  So naming sources does not make a work truthful, nor does not naming sources make a work incredible.  It is good practice, in modern scholarship, to name one's sources.  But even good early 20th Century scholarship was often much more lax about this than some bad 21st Century scholarship.  

A record of accuracy is just one of dozens of reasons I offer that Luke and his fellows should be trusted as credible biographers.   

Ferguson is making a mountain out of a molehill, and confusing a cloud for a lofty summit.  
So long as extensive fragments and information exist for lost works, such as the lost biographers of Alexander the Great, they can still be considered contemporary sources. There are, of course, Christian texts that also perished in antiquity (e.g. Papias of Hierapolis’ Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord), but none are as relevant to the historical Jesus as Alexander’s biographers are to the historical Alexander the Great. The reason why is that there are no known eyewitness, contemporary sources of the same caliber as Callisthenes of Olynthus that ever existed for Jesus — lost, fragmentary, or otherwise. (8) 
(8) Ferguson ought to at least admit here that some very eminent scholars disagree, believing that Mark and John, at least, are themselves eyewitness or next to eyewitness sources.  Again, I refer him to Bauckham's book, and to warm endorsements on the back cover from N. T. Wright, James Dunn, Graham Stanton, and Martin Hengel -- all highly accomplished scholars.  And Luke and perhaps Matthew had every opportunity to interact with such sources -- as the gospels reveal in numerous subtle ways, as I show they almost certainly did.  
(Cut, Ferguson's attack on Q, for which I carry no water.) 

3) The lost biographies of Alexander would have been much larger and substantive works than anything that existed for Jesus.  Alexander’s biographies were extensive historical works that covered in detail his different campaigns and actions. These works were edited and made available in libraries, where later historians could have access to them.  It is not like there was some great library that existed in Galilee or Jerusalem for Jesus (as there was a great library for Alexander at Alexandria), where the later Gospel authors could go to interact with extensive contemporary histories written during Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus and his companions were probably all mostly illiterate (discussed further here) . . . (9) 

9.  I am not sure what "all mostly illiterate" means.  Does he mean all of the disciples could read just a little?  

But the literacy of Jesus' first followers is a contentious issue, much-debated by scholars.  And even if (say) only 5% of Jewish males at the time could read and write, and some scholars think many more could, those who gravitated to cities, like Jesus' disciples, would have more likely to learn to read.  Then surely the leaders of the early church, entrusted to defend a faith vouchsafed through the Greek Septuagint, would have made learning to read Greek a priority -- the alphabet only takes an hour or two -- so they could read the Scriptures for themselves.  After all, they weren't earning their living from fishing, anymore.  

Not that it matters, since, again, the gospels were written within the plausible life-span of Jesus' first followers.  Most would have been younger than him, as in every mobile revolutionary movement, and many would have survived into the 70s, even 80s.  The evangelists need not have depended on written sources -- though Luke says many were already available, and there is no reason on Earth to disbelieve him.  (Most scholars find that claim very credible.)  

Furthermore, what the disciples lacked (presumably) in libraries, they would have more than made up for in first-hand sources.  

"The Gospel According to
John Marshall"
When I wrote my mini-biography of my father, I did check a few internet sources, such as on the missile base where my uncle once worked, and the barracks in Eritrea where I think Dad served while in the military.  But far more important were family connections.  I talked with his surviving brother and two sisters, church friends, and of course Mom, among other sources.  And some of the stories they told me went back 70 years or more.  (Including details about dogs, gardens, alleged hauntings, and encounters with angry women!)  Dad's older brother Stan (who is still spry) maintained a lucid memory of events back to the world war era and even before, which could often be confirmed from other oral sources.  

Hardly a scrap of "oral tradition" was involved -- this was almost all first-hand testimony.  And some of it corresponded, in time, to recording memories of Jesus' ministry as late as 100 or even 105 AD.

The early Christian church was a tight-knit and still fairly small community.   I don't even think Luke's job of finding sources would have been that difficult!

Such living, first-hand eyewitnesses, whom you can ask questions, are better than any book. 
So, not only do contemporary written sources exist for Alexander the Great (even ignoring archeological evidence, which is also vastly more abundant for Alexander than Jesus), but they are also better in every conceivable way than the written sources that exist for Jesus — both extant or lost.  The apologist will now respond that we should not expect there to be better evidence for Jesus.  (10)  After all, Alexander the Great was a wealthy politician surrounded by literate people, who even had a library dedicated to him in Alexandria. J esus, in contrast, was a poor itinerant prophet, who was surrounded by mostly illiterate people, and who did not receive the same public honors after his death. True.  But this consideration does not eliminate the relevance of contemporary sources . . . 
(10) This "apologist" would add, "That's why it is so remarkable and fortunate that so many early sources of unexcelled quality do, in fact, exist for Jesus of Nazareth."

Arrian is good.  Plutarch a little more doubtful, at times.  The basic outline of Alexander's life, career, and death is fairly well-known.  Arrian himself claims that there were more biographies of Alexander than "of any other man."  But these accounts lack many of the history-confirming qualities I describe within the gospels, and which Ferguson overlooks. 
(Cut, Ferguson's introduction to Arguments from Silence)
In the case of the historical Jesus, arguments from silence based on a lack of contemporary or corroborating evidence are sometimes valid and sometimes not.  When it comes to the Jesus of the Gospels, who allegedly had the entire Earth go dark at his crucifixion,(11)  tore the curtain in the Jewish Temple in twain, and then flew into space in broad daylight (12), these arguments are valid.  It is very obvious that such tall tales were later embellishments and exaggerations of Jesus, and it is not surprising that not a single contemporary knows anything of these events (as I explain here).  When it comes to a more minimal, obscure historical Jesus, however, these arguments are not valid.  If Jesus was nothing more than an obscure peasant, then we should not necessarily expect that anything contemporary would have been written about him.  This is why such arguments from silence do not incline me to doubt the existence of a historical Jesus . . . 
(11) Frequently Matthew uses the word "ge" to mean, not "the world" but "this land." (2:6, 2: 20-21, 4: 15, 9:26, 9:31, etc)  So why does Ferguson assume, without argument, that in this verse he could only have meant "the entire Earth?"  Did Matthew even claim to know what people in India or Spain had seen?  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.  
(12) "Flying into space in broad daylight," if that is what occurred, would not of course have been noted by anyone who didn't happen to be around Jesus at the time.  I could fly into space right now, and history would completely miss that thrilling ride.  Similarly, if Jesus left Earth in some surprising manner during a hiking trip with his disciples (has Matthew ever gone hiking?  Mountains are usually solitary places!), there would be no reason to expect an account of that to come down to us, except in the manner that it has in fact come down. 
So it is curious that Ferguson picks three examples of happenings in the gospels that ought to have been broadly known if they really occurred, and gets two of them obviously wrong.  Which illustrates the hazards of "arguments from silence."  
Would Josephus have recorded the renting of the curtain?  Would he have heard of it, or if he had, ascribed it to a gust of wind or shoddy knitting?  The Jesuits in China recorded how an earthquake in the capital saved one of their number from possible execution.  It would be interesting to see how Chinese historians record that incident.  

Still, I am inclined to agree with Ferguson that at the end of his gospel, Matthew (who I believe was most distant from Jesus of all the evangelists) may indeed have included a rumor or two that he had not verified.  Ancient historians and biographers often did mention rumors, even while recognizing the distinction between such stories and the main events they recorded.  (Herodotus could be almost schizophrenic in his duel-brain approach to historiography.)  
None of this implies that Jesus did not exist.  It implies that we are very limited in what we can know with any certainty about the historical Jesus.  We will always have more historical information for famous generals and emperors who changed the world and made a large footprint on contemporary records.  We will also always know less about obscure people who never had such an impact. Because of this, modern historians are able to reconstruct far more reliable biographies for people like Alexander the Great and Tiberius Caesar.  The details of these two men’s lives are far less obscure to history.  Jesus just happened to be someone of less public prominence, so that we have considerably less reliable information about him.

As such, appeals to a lack of contemporary or early sources are valid when arguing that such a lack impairs our ability to know about the person or event in question.  We may never expect to have such evidence, since it may have never been produced.  But it still affects what we can know about the past, and it is primarily this second form of argument that is relevant to why there is little reliable historical evidence for Jesus.(13)

(13) All this, of course, assumes that the gospels do not contain a great deal of accurate information about Jesus, which is precisely what I believe I demonstrate in the new book -- not that others haven't done so already.  

It should also be noted, however, that the evidence for Jesus is not only less than that for famous politicians.  There are other less powerful and wealthy figures from antiquity that are still considerably better attested than Jesus.  For example, the historical Socrates, who lived in 5th century BCE Athens (a time and region far more literate than Galilee in the 1st century CE), is a figure who, like Jesus, wrote none of his own works and is only known through the writings of others.  However, we possess a number of contemporary, eyewitness sources for Socrates’ life, such as Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon (among other fragmentary sources).  The evidence for the historical Socrates is thus far greater than that of the historical Jesus. (14)  So, Jesus is not just more obscure than politicians, but also other figures from antiquity. This does not at all imply that Jesus did not exist, but it should be taken into consideration when apologists exaggerate the amount of historical evidence that exists for Jesus. 

(14) On the contrary, I think we may learn more about Jesus from the gospels, than we can about Plato from Aristophanes and Plato, at least.  (I have read less of Xenophon.)  

Aristophanes' The Clouds is a sophomoric lampooning of the great teacher.  It is highly unrealistic and not I think terribly clever, with silly fart jokes and a caricature of Socrates that I find almost unrecognizable compared to Plato and Xenophon.   The play came in third in the City Dionysia festival.  His The Frogs also contains slap-stick, but is better-done, in my opinion, and also in the opinion of his fellow-citizens, who awarded it first prize.  

Plato no doubt comes much closer to describing the "real" Socrates.  Indeed C. S. Lewis compares his portrait of Socrates to the gospels, finding them both highly credible.  But then Plato often seems to insert his own philosophy into Socrates' mouth, which I don't believe the evangelists often do.  (For reasons I give throughout the middle section of Jesus is No Myth.
The reason why historians look for contemporary or early sources is because the details of the past can be obscured over time and replaced by later speculation and myth-making. Early sources closer to the event are thus less likely to be contaminated by a later process of telephone. In the case of both Alexander the Great and Jesus, legendary accounts of their lives began to circulate only a few decades after their deaths.  However, as Kris Komarnitsky explains in “Myth Growth Rates in the Gospels: A Close Look at A.N. Sherwin-White’s Two-Generation Rule,” the pace of legendary development took place at a considerably more rapid pace for Jesus, because of a lack of public interest and records for Jesus’ life. Whereas for Alexander the Great, the historical core of his biography was far better preserved through all of the various records that were produced during his kingship . .  (15)
(15) I don't find Komarnitsky's argument very convincing.  But it would be too much to take that article on here, as well.  Enough to say, the gospels do not look like any "legend" or "myth" that skeptics have yet produced.  C. S. Lewis, who ate up myth and legend like my dog eats popcorn, said "not one" of them is like the Gospel of John.  Again, I think my analysis in Jesus is No Myth and earlier books helps to more objectively demonstrate that truth.  
As such, when dealing with the historical Jesus of Galilee versus the historical Alexander the Great, we not only have less substantial sources for Jesus (anonymous hagiographies) than Alexander (eyewitness historians) (16)
(16)  In Jesus is No Myth, again, I dedicate two chapters to the claim that the gospels should be described as "hagiography," including one concrete parallel Ferguson offers, The Contest of Hesiod and Homer.

To put it mildly, the analogy does not pass muster.  The gospels are like no hagiography ever written, and the more skeptics offer such tom-fool and easily-refuted analogies, the more deeply the utter uniqueness of the gospels will be driven home.  
but also a considerably bigger problem of legendary development contaminating the sources for Jesus that we even possess.  This makes reconstructing the details of the historical Jesus’ life a considerably greater problem than reconstructing the historical Alexander.  This is why there has been a “Quest for the Historical Jesus” in Biblical Studies, but no such problem for Classicists reconstructing the life of Alexander. (17)  The two historical situations are simply not the same . . . 
(17)  True, the "epic rap battle" between Jesus and Alexander as historical figures is indeed unequal.  But I disagree about who wins that battle.  Our sources for Jesus, despite his relative obscurity, seem closer to the facts than are our surviving sources for Alexander, for one thing.  Luke would have had opportunities to examine witnesses that either Arrian or Plutarch could only have dreamed of having.  And few of the dozens of telling internal evidences I cite, can I think be applied to Alexander.  Though I believe Arrian got most of his story right -- he was a judicious historian, like Luke, and I don't want to take anything away from him!  (Arrian's account of the noble Stoic philosopher Epictetus is also fascinating, while I am blurbing his books!)    
But there is another, far more important, difference between Jesus and Alexander that I believe better explains why biographies of the former are disputed so much more than those of the latter: relevance.   
If the gospels are false, I may as well lose my religion, and even my purpose in life.  
If the gospels are true, Matthew Ferguson may need to repent, change his focus for living, and apologize for misleading his blog readers!  
In Why the Jesus Seminar Can't Find Jesus, I described a dozen egregious errors that the intelligent, well-read scholars who participated in that conclave of modern Jesus scholars regularly committed.

In The Truth About Jesus and the 'Lost Gospels,' I argued that eminent scholars like Elaine Pagels, Karen King, and Bart Erhman, systematically overlooked or covered up the most flagrantly obvious facts about the gnostic works they touted.  
In Jesus is No Myth, I demonstrate that the many parallels skeptical scholars have proposed for the gospels, are simply laughable, both at a first glance (for readers with sense, including a sense of humor!), and also when carefully examined according to dozens of more objective, preset criteria.

So I know for a fact that there is something wrong with the vision of modern secularist Jesus scholars. "They lack literary judgement," as C. S. Lewis said of similar scholars in his day: "They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight," 
What else could cause so eminent a scholar as Bart Ehrman, who has been reading the gospels all his adult life, to make such absurd mistakes as those I demonstrate here?  (And in that little article, I'm just getting warmed up!)  
Why does an equally-clever, if less-informed, Reza Aslan try so hard to make Jesus out to be a violent revolutionary like Mohammed, in the face of masses of contrary evidence?
A bit of the same unease, perhaps, that caused Jesus' contemporaries to worry: 
"If he goes on like this, the Romans will come and take away our kingdom." 

Three more points.  
Critical historians who have assessed the reliability of the sources for Jesus have identified 6 primary sources that are most relevant to reconstructing the life of Jesus . . . 

5-6) The Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas, which are the least reliable. (18) Despite the fact that they offer a considerably different portrait of Jesus than the Synoptic Gospels, scholars find little reliable information in these sources that is not already found in the sources above.  These sources date from the late 1st century CE to the early 2nd century CE, about sixty to a hundred years after the life of Jesus . . . 
(18) Comparing John and Thomas is another one of those silly errors that ought to discredit any scholar who makes it.  (Yes, I do mean Elaine Pagels!)  I refuted this in both Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and The Truth About Jesus and the 'Lost Gospels."  
The two works could hardly be more different.  Thomas isn't even a gospel, because it is not a story, and therefore cannot be euangelion, "good news."  It is a pile of loose sand, 114 sayings, some of which are borrowed from the real gospels, while others derive from Gnosticism.  None of those sayings are convincing, sound much like Jesus, or are particular impressive.  Even the Jesus Seminar could only convince itself two "new" sayings in Thomas were actually from Jesus, and they needed to vote three times (and apparently get harranged a bit) to do that!  
By contrast, I concur with Bauckham's view that John does derive from one of Jesus' first followers.  John may have reformulated some of Jesus' teaching, but he also transmits a great deal of first-hand reminiscence that is best explained as being from the Master himself.  
The details of Jesus’ life that are agreed upon by a consensus of modern scholars (19) include:
  • Jesus was a historical Jew who probably lived in the early 1st century CE.
  • Jesus was probably a native of Galilee.
  • Jesus probably had a brother named James (referenced in Gal. 1:19), a father named Joseph, and a mother named Mary.
  • Jesus was likely baptized by John the Baptist.
  • Jesus, like John, was probably an apocalyptic prophet who taught about a coming Kingdom of God (this theory was first developed by Albert Schweitzer, and has been expanded by modern scholars, such as Dale Allison and Bart Ehrman).
  • Jesus’ ministry got him into trouble with either the Roman or Jewish authorities (or both) at Jerusalem.
  • Jesus was executed by crucifixion, probably when Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea (26-36 CE).
  • Within a couple years after Jesus’ death, some people believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead (as is evidence by the creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-7, which most scholars date to 2-5 years after the death of Jesus. I discuss this creed and its relevance further here) . . . 
(19) I have no great problem with this list as a description of the "consensus" among New Testament scholars.  It appears, at first glance, similar to one EP Sanders proposed.  But as implied above, a "consensus" among scholars needs to include atheists, agnostics, and Jews, as well perhaps as Hindus and Buddhists.  By definition, such a "scholarly consensus" could not include any essential Christian beliefs about Jesus, such as the reality of his miracles.  Non-Christians would exercise veto power on any specifically Christian affirmation about Jesus, or there would be no consensus.  And if you get rid of Jesus' miracles, you also have to get rid of most of Jesus' sayings, which would be harder to remember than, say, seeing Jesus raise a dead girl.  (Though the Jesus Seminar couldn't help recognize that Jesus' sayings are, in fact, highly memorable and cohere with who he is and how he acted, and thus affirm that many of them are probably historical - despite a dozen hostile and wrong presuppositions which they affirm.)   

This theory is developed more by Kris Komarnitsky in “The Cognitive Dissonance Theory of Christian Origins,” who draws parallels with other messianic movements after the death of their messiah figure, most notably those of the failed Jewish messiahs Sabbatai Zevi and Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Likewise, NT scholar Bart Ehrman has developed a theory in How Jesus Became God that goes all the way from the historical Jesus’ teachings, to his death, to the belief in his resurrection, and to Jesus’ eventual deification, which can explain all of these developments in purely natural terms. Even mainstream Christian scholars, such as Dale Allison in Resurrecting Jesus, acknowledge that there are at least plausible theories for how Christianity could have emerged due to purely natural causes.  As such, the belief in Jesus’ resurrection hardly required an actual miracle to emerge.  It should also be noted that one can accept all of the minimal historical details of Jesus outlined above, and still walk away reasonably unconvinced of the resurrection of Jesus and the core claims of Christianity.  Many NT scholars and former Christians — such as Bart Ehrman, Hector Avalos, and Robert Price — have done so.  The evidence for Jesus is not extraordinary, despite apologetic exaggerations to the contrary. Nevertheless, there is a limited degree of evidence for the historical Jesus, and such evidence points towards the obscure, itinerant apocalyptic prophet described above. This figure, of course, was exaggerated and embellished by legendary accounts since not long after the time of his death. Such exaggerations inspired the legendary figure that is now worshiped in modern Christianity today. That Jesus, however, who is prayed to and worshiped in church, has not been proven by historical evidence. The Jesus of faith is a matter of faith, and the Jesus of history is only an obscure figure of the past, most of whose life details have been lost today. (20) 

(20) Of course I disagree with almost everything in this paragraph -- including the notion that Hector Avalos is a credible New Testament scholar.  (I no longer have much use for Erhman's work, either, for reasons I have given in detail in both cases elsewhere on this site.  And while I personally like the eccentric Price, he's hardly mainstream.)  

I would respectfully disagree with Allison in supposing there are plausible materialistic theories for how Christianity could have emerged without miracles.   And of course I beg to differ whenever Ferguson, or anyone else, dismisses the gospels as good historical sources.  

I think historical evidence strongly supports the gospel accounts.  But curiously, one has to wonder from this article whether Ferguson has even considered that evidence.  One finds no references to the work of N. T. Wright, or (fairly) Craig Blomberg, or Richard Bauckham, among others.  

In addition, as fun as these "just so" stories may be, these allegedly "plausible theories for how Christianity could have emerged due to purely natural causes," what is missing is any serious parallel to Jesus.  I have shown, in my three books now on the subject, that there are no credible parallels to Jesus in the ancient Greco-Roman world.  I have found none in China, either, though I describe a few similarities between the gospels and the Analects of Confucius.  Nor does anyone seem to have found a remotely valid "parallel Jesus" in India.  
If natural causes created one Jesus, why has it never created anyone remotely like him? 

Alexander also remains a striking figure, and comes across as a distinct character in Arrian and Plutarch alike: his strategic boldness and genius, love of good books, drunken rages, superstition and intellectual curiosity, his ambivalent relation with his mother, with Aristotle, with the city of Athens.   He yet pales in comparison to Jesus, and I think the world knows that.