2014-04-23

Biblical Scholars in a “Neoliberal-Postmodern” World

by Neil Godfrey

jesus-in-an-age-of-neoliberalism2This is part 2 of my review of Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology by James G. Crossley. (Once again I invite Professor Crossley to alert me to anything he sees in these posts that he believes is a misrepresentation of his views.)

The point of chapter 2, Neoliberalism and Postmodernity, is to

provide the broad contextual basis for analysing some of the ways in which Jesus has been constructed in scholarship and beyond in recent decades. (p. 21)

To explain postmodernism and postmodernity Crossley directs us to Terry Eagleton’s understanding in The Illusions of Postmodernism, p. vii:

The word postmodernism generally refers to a form of contemporary culture, whereas the term postmodernity alludes to a specific historical period. Postmodemity is a style of thought which is suspicious of classical notions of truth, reason, identity and objectivity, of the idea of universal progress or emancipation, of single frameworks, grand narratives or ultimate grounds of explanation. Against these Enlightenment norms, it sees the world as contingent, ungrounded, diverse, unstable, indeterminate, a set of disunified cultures or interpretations which breed a degree of scepticism about the objectivity of truth, history and norms, the givenness of natures and the coherence of identities. . . . Postmodernism is a style of culture which reflects something of this epochal change, in a depthless, decentred, ungrounded, self-reflexive, playful, derivative, eclectic, pluralistic art which blurs the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture, as well as between art and everyday experience.

Crossley explains that he will attempt to link “postmodernity with the political trends in Anglo-American culture”, if not precisely, then by means of a “general case” that itself will be “a strong one”. We’ll see how strong it is as we progress through these reviews.

Crossley did say (see the previous post) that

This book is at least as much about contemporary politics, ideology and culture as it is about Jesus, and in many ways, not least due to unfamiliar approaches in historical Jesus studies, this is almost inevitable. (p. 10)

Now there is much about Crossley’s politics that I like. I share his despair at the political conservatism, the lack of critical political reflection and awareness among his biblical studies peers. I like his idealism and frustration with his peers as well as his respect for their individual decent natures. Unfortunately I sense that too often Crossley loses himself in his efforts to politically educate his peers that he only maintains the most tenuous links with how these political views influence the shape of the historical Jesus produced by these scholars.

The chapter is wide-ranging as we expect when discussions of postmodernity and postmodernism arise. The cultural, economic and political context involves a broad-ranging discussion that consists masses of data: “near hagiographical treatments of the ‘material girl’ Madonna and her MTV stage”,  “Steve Jobs, advertizing his iPoducts as the machinery of the casually clothed”, the politico-cultural symbolism of decaffeinated coffee, television parodies of entrepreneurial culture, 1970s Chile, the recession and oil crisis of 1973, the “sharp rise in personal image consultants in the 1980s”. . . .

Only passing mentions to biblical scholars are found in this chapter (for the reason I mentioned above) and I will focus on those in this post. read more »


2014-04-22

Meetings, Bloody Meetings

by Neil Godfrey

Sorry-The-English-and-Their-I loved the dry wit in the final sentence of this paragraph of a book I have for bed-side reading, Sorry! The English and Their Manners by Henry Hitchings:

Beside the encounters I’ve so far dealt with, there is another kind of meeting: a formal assembly. In the Middle Ages meetings were armed encounters: local disputes were settled by means of a ‘moot’ at which proposals were approved with a banging together of weapons — or dismissed with groans. These attempts to negotiate arguments gradually became less military in temper. During the Renaissance, urbanization and political centralization gave rise to a more parliamentary style of meeting, over which courtiers presided. Urbane discussion became the mechanism for resolving or curtailing differences and achieving solidarity. Yet even in the nineteenth century the word meeting was a euphemism for a duel — a hangover from a less bureaucratic age. And today meeting is associated with other ways of taking lives or at least sapping vitality. (pp. 50-51)

How can any discussion of the pain of meetings avoid the old John Cleese classic . . .

read more »


2014-04-21

Pushing for Mass Transfer of Arabs & Warning of “Rivers of Blood”

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from the previous post . . . .

This post shows that the bloodshed that was to stain Palestine for decades to come and through to today was warned about in 1937. It is commonly said that the Palestinians by and large voluntarily left their lands, especially in 1948. This series will produce the evidence to demonstrate that that claim is a terrible myth.

Several other myths are also being addressed in this series:

  • that Palestinian Arabs never had any really legitimate ties to the Palestine,
  • the myth of the “empty land”,
  • the myth of Arab plans from the beginning to drive Jews into the sea (the reality was the Zionists planned from the start to drive the Arabs into the desert),
  • the myth that the Zionists sought peaceful coexistence with the Arabs from the outset.

.

One reader expressed concern that

  • these posts are presenting only one side of the story
  • and that I am not being duly sceptical about my source material.

I invite others

  • to provide another side to the contents of this post,
  • and/or to demonstrate fault with the sources.

I set only one condition: that any such comment does indeed address another side to the contents of this post, or to the sources and their content, and not shift goal-posts by addressing other issues that deflect attention from the points made here.

.

The Royal Commission Meets the Zionist Leaders

Nur-MasalhaThe Peel Royal Commission arrived in Palestine in November 1936 to gather information about the tense and often violent Arab-Jewish relations in order to make recommendations for British government policy on Palestine. Nur Masalha writes that “several members of [the Commission] expressed open sympathy for Zionism.” (Expulsion, p. 54)

The Commission met with both Arab representatives and with “virtually every Zionist leader in Palestine of any importance”. Most of the Zionist lobbying, however, took place in London after the Commission returned in January 1937. Zionist leaders — Shertok, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion, David Hacohen, Dov Hos — went to London where they forged close relations with the decision makers: the leaders of the British Labor Party and Commission members. The Zionist delegates strongly promoted both partition of Palestine and population transfers.

Actually the idea of partitioning Palestine was initiated earlier in Palestine by a British Commissioner, Professor Reginald Coupland, in a private meeting with Weizmann. This was a major breakthrough for the Zionist movement.

Given the diverse patterns of settlement in Palestine at the time, any type of partition was going to inevitably mean population transfers of some kind.

The population transfer recommendations that the Peel Commission eventually agreed on were the same as those originally proposed by the Jewish Agency leaders of Palestine. (Recall from last post that Ben-Gurion had stated his intention to raise the issue with the Commissioners.)

In March 1937 the Jewish Agency conveyed a confidential plan for transfer to the Royal Commission. Recall in the previous post the passing mention of a non-Zionist member of the Jewish Agency who protested against the transfer idea — Maurice Hexter. Now Hexter was the one who conveyed the transfer plan to the Royal Commission.

Hexter explained that aim of the plan was to solve the problem of land and Zionist colonization in various districts such as the Hula and Beisan valleys. Under the plan, the British government was to consider proposals submitted by the Yishuv settlement companies, such as the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA), and the Palestine Land Development Company (Hevrat Hachsharat Hayishuv), all of which were engaged in the purchase of land in Palestine for the collective control of the Jewish National Fund or Zionist private investors. (pp. 55-56)

Hexter explained that the goal of these proposals was

the herding together of the existing Arab villages and their concentration in order to evacuate their territories for Jewish colonization.

Hexter went on to explain that if the Arabs refused to accept their transfer from their lands and put up any sort of resistance to selling and evacuating their lands, then the government was to intervene and

force the people to exchange land and move them from one place to another.

A Royal Commissioner then asked Hexter if the land to be evacuated by the Arabs was to given entirely to the Jewish settlements, Hexter answered:

Our intention is [that they will be] only for Jews.

(Moshe Sharett, Yoman Medini, Vol. 2, a statement at a meeting of the Zionist Actions Committee, II February 1937, Jerusalem, pp. 16-17.)

But it was another proposal for transfer that had the most impact on the Commission. This was one advanced by the Jewish Agency in a May 1937 memorandum and made available in Ben-Gurion’s memoirs published in 1974. read more »


2014-04-20

How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 2)

by Tim Widowfield

Part 2: A Markan Sandwich in John’s Gospel

The Denial of St Peter

The Denial of St Peter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scholars have long noted that both the gospel of John and the gospel of Mark interrupt the story of Peter’s denial with Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark) or interrogation before Annas (John). Both authors begin with Peter in the courtyard of the high priest late at night, pause the story to describe Jesus’ initial questioning before the Jewish authority, then resume the denial narrative. In other words, the author of John’s gospel has apparently used the same literary device found in Mark.

For New Testament scholars who think that John knew the Synoptics, especially Mark, this situation poses no problems. However, scholars who believe John did not know Mark must explain this evidence, which tends to indicate literary dependence. For example, they might argue that John and Mark:

  1. independently chose to use the intercalation (sandwich) technique to tell the two stories,
  2. used a pre-gospel Passion narrative in which this literary device existed,
  3. or knew the same oral tradition, which happened to contain the sandwich.

Comparing sandwiches

For the purposes of discussion, it’s helpful to see the sandwiches side by side.

read more »


Zionist Plans for Mass Transfer of Arabs: Alive But Discreet

by Neil Godfrey

Nur-MasalhaThis fourth installment of a series I began in 2010 is long overdue. The previous posts are:

  1. Zionist Founding Fathers’ Plans for Transfer of the Palestinian Arabs
  2. Redemption or Conquest: Zionist Yishuv plans for transfer of Palestinian Arabs in the British Mandate period
  3. The Weizmann Plan to “Transfer” the Palestinians

My intention is to make a little more widely known a scholarly Palestinian perspective of the history of Israel’s efforts to transfer Palestinians from their lands. A good many myths have long circulated in Western countries about the Palestinian situation, such as the supposed “emptiness” of the land at the time the first Jewish immigrants began to arrive, and about the supposed lack of cultural, religious or ethnic ties Palestinian Arabs had for Palestine, or even the assumption that the Palestinians had no distinctive sophisticated cultural, intellectual and settled urban identities at all. Palestinian historian Nur Masalha has researched the personal, diaries, the letters, the meeting minutes, government archives, of the Jewish leaders and organizations responsible for bringing about the Jewish state of Israel and published one facet of his findings in Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, published in 1992 by the Institute for Palestinian Studies.

I am well aware that some regular readers deplore posts like this thinking they are antisemitic propaganda and some may even loathe this blog and stop reading. Yet this is a far more important question than biblical studies. I can only ask that we pause and check whether we might possibly have not yet truly heard the real story but have relied predominantly upon emotive declamations as filtered through one side of the conflict. If these posts go beyond what the primary evidence of the documented record allows then they can rightly be dismissed. I hope to present the documented evidence for the real plans and hopes of prominent figures that resulted in the Palestine we see today. I see no point in having a blog that only repeats what many others are saying far better than I can. The posts I compose are for most part, I hope, invitations to re-evaluate (on the basis of authoritative sources, clear evidence and valid argument) what many of us (myself included) have long taken for granted.

Rather than add many explanatory footnotes I link directly to (mostly) Wikipedia articles that explain certain names and terms that I bring in to the discussion. I spell names the way they are printed in Masalha’s book.

The Royal (Peel) Commission

The Peel Commission was set up in May 1936 to investigate the causes of the often violent conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine throughout the six month period of a strike by Arabs that year. The following year the Commission published the report that initiated efforts to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab entities. It also recommended the eventual “transfers” of 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews. This post makes clear the thinking of Jewish leaders in the lead up to this Commission’s enquiry and recommendation for population transfers.

Background: British Opposition to Arab Transfers

read more »


2014-04-19

Jesus’ Crucifixion From the Olivet Prophecy to Gethsemane & the Fall of Jerusalem

by Neil Godfrey

This follows on from my previous post.Three hours of darkness 2There is nothing new about noticing that the prophecy of the “last days” that Jesus delivered to his inner disciples in Mark 13 contains allusions to events in the ensuing narrative Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. I addressed one of these points in the previous post. There are others.

Among them . . . .

Keep in mind that these are answers to the question: Tell us, when shall these things [there shall not be left one stone of the temple upon another] be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled (Mark 13:4)

But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up [παραδώσουσιν] to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten. . . . (13:9)

And he that betrayed [παραδιδοὺς] him . . . And all the council sought to put him to death. . . and the servants did strike him . . . and [the soldiers] smote him . . . (14:44, 55, 65; 15:19)

Now the brother shall betray [παραδώσει] the brother to death . . . and shall cause them to be put to death. (13:12)

And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray [παραδώσει] me. (14:18)

And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. (13:16)

And they all forsook him, and fled. And there followed him a certain young man . . . and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked (14:50, 52)

the sun shall be darkened (13:24)

And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (13:33)

Now learn a parable of the fig tree (13:28)

And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots (11:20)

Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. (13:32)

Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation (14:38)

Watch ye therefore: for you know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all. Watch. (13:35-37)

And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? . . . And when he returned, he found them asleep again. . . And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. (14:37-41)

read more »


2014-04-18

Jesus’ Crucifixion As Symbol of Destruction of Temple and Judgment on the Jews

by Neil Godfrey
From http://worryisuseless.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/yeshuaadvent.jpg

From http://worryisuseless.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/yeshuaadvent.jpg

This post advances another reason to think that the author of the Gospel of Mark depicted the final days of Jesus as a metaphor for the fall of Jerusalem. If so, it follows that the resurrection of Jesus symbolized the emergence of a new “body of Christ” and “Temple of God” in the “ekklesia” or assemblies of Christians (what we think of as the “church”). I owe a special debt to Clark W. Owens whose book on a literary-critical analysis of the gospels, Son of Yahweh, I posted about recently. I also owe much to a few insights advanced by Karel Hanhart in The Open Tomb, on which I have also posted a little.

To begin, let’s recapitulate some of the essentials from those earlier posts.

I am persuaded that the Gospel of Mark’s depiction of Jesus’ tomb was based on a reading of the Greek version of Isaiah 22:16 that describes the destruction of the temple. In Isaiah 22:16 the temple is likened to a tomb carved out of a rock:

What hast thou here? and whom has thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock.

Compare Mark 15:46 speaking of the tomb Joseph of Arimathea used for the body of Jesus:

. . . and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock . . . .

Recall at this point that we know ancient authors of the era in which the gospels were composed loved to imitate, draw upon, rearrange, allude to, transform, other well-known literature. We have numerous examples of this being done in the Gospel of Mark. The author has regularly taken passages from the Book of Daniel, the Psalms, other prophets, 1 and 2 Kings, Genesis and Exodus, and woven them into a new story so that they take on new meanings. We see this at the beginning with the introduction of Jesus through the announcement of John the Baptist. That opening chapter is replete with allusions to Elijah, the exodus of Israel from Egypt and the forty year wandering in the wilderness. The Passion scene at the end is equally rich with allusions to Daniel and Psalms, such as the cry of desperation from the cross, the mocking of Jesus as he was dying, the dividing of his garments, the promise of a return on the clouds in glory. read more »


Maurice Casey’s Failure to Research Mythicists — More Evidence

by Neil Godfrey

We know Maurice Casey has claimed to have researched the backgrounds of mythicists and claimed that the evidence is clear that most of them are reacting against fundamentalist or similarly strict and closed-minded religious backgrounds. Other scholars such as James McGrath, Jim West and James Crossley have picked up Casey’s claims and repeated them in their online and print publications. They were only too keen to believe Casey’s declarations, of course, and did not even bother to check the evidence Casey presented in his own book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths?

So I took note of all the evidence Casey himself cited and drew it up in table format. Lo and behold, it turned out that contrary to Casey’s own claim the evidence he cited demonstrated that the least likely predictor of a person who has published a mythicist argument is a fundamentalist or strict/conservative religious background. Quite the opposite, in fact. The most likely predictor is one who has a liberal (including liberal Catholic) or no church background at all.

I have since been alerted to another published mythicist I overlooked in my earlier table and have now added Ken Humphreys to the list. Ken is neither an American (a species of human for whom Casey seems to have a special loathing — see my earlier posts, especially those dated 8th and 10th of March) and is reputed to have been an atheist all his life. So I guess that evangelical angry lying Jimmy West will have to start blaming the “angry atheists” for this mythicism business now.

Who’s Who Among Mythicists and Mythicist Sympathizers/Agnostics

(Heading above links to the original post)

Fundamentalist Background

Roman Catholic Background

(Note N. American/Australian Catholicism is a notoriously liberal form of Catholicism)

Liberal or No Church Background

Unknown

Tom Harpur (very positive towards Christianity) Earl Doherty Richard Carrier ["Freethinking Methodist"] “George Albert Wells” (? — see comments below)
Robert M. Price (very positive towards Christianity) Thomas Brodie (Irish Catholic. Very positive towards Christianity) Roger Viklund (Den Jesus som aldrig funnits = The Jesus Who Never Was) [Source: comment] Peter Gandy
Frank R. Zindler Roger Parvus (Paul) Derek Murphy (Jesus Potter Harry Christ) [Episcopalian]
Jay Raskin (The Evolution of Christs and Christianities)
David Fitzgerald (Nailed) Joe Atwill (Source: Caesar’s Messiah) Dorothy Murdock [liberal Congregationalist]
Stephan Huller
Raphael Lataster* René Salm (now Buddhist and atheist) Timothy Freke [Source: ch.3 Mystery Experience]
Francesco Carotta (very positive towards Christianity) Herman Detering (Paul — also denies HJ) (very positive towards Christianity)
Raphael Lataster* Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior: source online email)
Ken Humphreys (jesusneverexisted.com) [no church background]
Raphael Lataster*

2014-04-17

The Biblical Roots of Nazi Racism

by Neil Godfrey

fightingwordsNot only Christian apologists but even some respected academic historians argue that Christianity had nothing to do with Nazism and that the Holocaust was inspired by atheistic, non-Christian ideologies. Not so, argues Hector Avalos, in Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence:

In fact, we shall argue that the Holocaust has its roots in biblical traditions that advocate genocide. (Kindle loc. 4093)

Avalos surveys the range of published viewpoints that argue Hitler and Nazism were driven by atheistic, anti-Christian and pro-evolutionary agendas but writes that

the main theoreticians [among Nazi ideologues] saw themselves as religious. (loc. 4158)

Cover of "The End of Biblical Studies"Hector Avalos is already renowned/notorious for The End of Biblical Studies. There he argued that the biblical texts are without any relevance today, or at least are no more relevant than any other writings from ancient times. Scholars who attempt to argue for the moral relevance of the Bible in today’s world, Avalos argues, do so by tendentiously re-interpreting selected passages out of their original contexts and arbitrarily downplaying passages that contradict their claims. Theoretically, Avalos reasons, one could take Hitler’s Mein Kampf and likewise focus on the good passages in it and insist they over-ride the bad ones, and that the negative passages should be interpreted symbolically and through the good sentiments we read into the better passages. No-one would attempt to justify the relevance of Mein Kampf by such a method. Yet Avalos points out that that’s the way scholars justify the relevance of the Bible in today’s world.

This post is based on another work by Avalos, Fighting Words, in which he analyses the way religious beliefs can and do contribute to violence. The full thesis is something I will address in a future post. Here I look at just one controversial point made in that book.

Avalos does not deny that Nazism drew upon scientific ideas of its day. But it can also be concluded that these scientific notions of race were extras added to ideas that had a deeper cultural heritage, in particular as they found expression in the holy book of Christianity. A modern and prominent theorist of race, Milford Wolpoff, traces modern ideas of racism right back to Platonic ideas of “essentialism“.

Ernst Haeckel

Plattdüütsch: Ernst Haeckel nadem he ut Italie...

Ernst Haeckel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1913) was perhaps the most influential of evolutionary theorists and writers at the turn of the twentieth century; his views were widely embraced with his book, The Riddle of the World (Die Welträtsel) having sold 100,000 copies before the turn of the century. Haeckel popularized the idea that different human races each evolved from different species of ape-men. Exterminations and exploitation of lesser races by superior ones was considered the inevitable consequence of Darwinism. The Nazi Party’s publications cited Haeckel frequently.

At the same time, Hitler saw racism as compatible with religion, as do many biblical authors. Even Haeckel, who is often maligned for supposedly introducing scientific grounds for genocide, saw himself as simply reexpressing biblical concepts in scientific language.

Note, for example, Haeckel’s comments on his vision of Utopia:

The future morality, free from all religious dogma, and grounded in a clear knowledge of nature’s law, teaches us the ancient wisdom of the Golden Rule … through the words of the Gospel: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

As in Christian and Jewish texts, “your neighbor” originally meant a fellow member of your in-group. Thus, Haeckel’s interpretation of “neighbor,” even if exegetically flawed, was based on the same concept of insider and outsider that is present in the earlier religions.

Avalos likens the Nazis to the “scientific creationists” of their day:

So from Haeckel to Hitler, Nazis did not see themselves as opposing biblical principles so much as they thought that modern science could be used to support, purify, and update those biblical principles. Nazis were often more like the scientific creationists of today who believe their pseudoscience supports the Bible. (loc. 4290-4297)

Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels & Theozoology read more »


2014-04-16

Maurice Casey Once More (A personal defence)

by Neil Godfrey

jesuscaseyFrom time to time I have half a mind to continue with more of Maurice Casey’s responses to those he sees opponents of himself and his friend Stephanie Fisher in Jesus: Evidence, and Argument or Mythicist Myths, but each time I pick it up I am reminded of how every page drips with such depressing malice.

I should undertake at a future time to show how flat wrong he is about his accounts of several others like Earl Doherty and even D.M. Murdock. (Murdock has certainly expressed some colourful views about me over my differences with some of her works, but Casey has not even been able to get some of the basics of her arguments right.)

But for now to fill in with a short post while I’m preparing several other longer ones for later let me address just one little choice detail Casey leveled at me.

Given Godfrey’s outspoken views, it was almost inevitable that some scholar, despite always being polite to decent colleagues, would reciprocate. Godfrey commented on him, ‘So these are the “honeys” adored by the likes of Maurice Casey’s fans. Charming.’80 There is no excuse for this description, and his removal from Godfrey’s blog, like the removal of Stephanie, is totally hypocritical.

Casey helpfully supplies a footnote to the evidence for my dastardly deed. Presumably it is routine for Casey and those he knows to ignore footnotes since this is the only reason I can imagine he would have added it. The link to which the footnote leads, I think, demonstrates just how hypocritical Casey is for such an accusation.

I invite readers to read the page Casey links to. The post is titled: Highly Esteemed Friends and Supporters of Steph and Maurice Casey.

In particular I would draw any interested reader’s attention to the comments following that post where more context is given.

The comments of the “scholar” that I removed were filled with f***k words. I left one of those comments standing in order to make it clear why I was placing that person’s further comments on moderation. (Nor did I ever “remove” Stephanie Fisher from the blog but I did from time to time place her comments on moderation. She has since commented here quite a few times in order to discuss points with Earl Doherty and to comment on my posts related to Muslims and the Middle East.)

Maurice Casey says this scholar was reacting to my “outspokenness”. Here is the first encounter I ever had with that “scholar”: Two misunderstandings in biblical studies: the nature of “scepticism” and “evidence”. It was from this point on that I was in this person’s line of sight. I was never allowed to post any feedback on his own blog when I thought he had misconstrued anything I had argued or had failed to read my mind and motives correctly.

Here is the post of mine that Casey says provoked this person who is always polite to “decent” people: A serious take on Maurice Casey’s “Jesus of Nazareth”.

And here is the good scholar’s comment that Casey apparently felt was entirely justified and to which I was oh so hypocritical in my response. As you can see from my response it never occurred to me that I was dealing with anything other than another hot-headed, foul-mouthed fundamentalist loony. I have since learned that Jim West has listed him (his name is Deane Galbraith if you’ve been too lazy to look up the links so far :-) ) as an up and coming scholar to watch.

Let’s finish off here with a comment I once attempted to post somewhere in yet one more effort to attempt to restore some sane and courteous discussion with Stephanie Fisher, the good friend of Maurice Casey who has in many ways claimed significant responsibility for much of the content of Casey’s book. read more »


2014-04-13

Why Today’s Theologians Call Themselves Historians

by Neil Godfrey

symbolicjesusIn The Symbolic Jesus: Historical Scholarship, Judaism and the Construction of Contemporary Identity, William Arnal gives us a reasonable explanation for why Historical Jesus scholars today are characterized by:

  • a general assumption that the gospel narratives reflect at some level genuine historical events;
  • a minimizing of the criterion of dissimilarity;
  • a preference for a criterion of plausibility;
  • an explicit, even strident, emphasis on Jesus’ “Jewishness”;
  • a preference to present themselves as historians more than theologians.

In other words, whatever happened to Rudolf Bultmann and good-old scholarly scepticism?

Arnal’s discussion is a broad one encompassing scholarly, political, religious and cultural identities. This posts focuses on only the scholarly identity. I give some of the background relevant to this new scholarly identity formation since the 1970s and 1980s since it helps us understand more completely what has been going on that has led theologians to stress their apparent credentials as historians.

Up until the 1970s and 1980s New Testament scholarship was dominated by “Bultmannian, post-Bultmannian, or Bultmann-trained scholars”.

The “New Quest” for the Historical Jesus is traditionally said to have begun in 1953 with a publication by Ernst Käsemann arguing that the only way to be assured a saying of Jesus was authentic was that it stood distinct from both Christianity and Judaism. This was called the criterion of double dissimilarity. It did not mean that Jesus said nothing that overlapped with distinctively Jewish or Christian ideas but that the only ones we could be reasonably confident came from Jesus were those that were dissimilar to both.

Ernst Käsemann was a student of Bultmann.

Other scholars prominent in this “New Quest” (that is, the apparent revival of Historical Jesus studies after Albert Schweitzer is said to have closed the curtain on the “First Quest”) have been

  • James M. Robinson — an American, but whose D. Theol was from Basel;
  • Norman Perrin — an American, not a student of Bultmann but a student of Jeremias.

This “New Quest” throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in both Europe and North America, could be most distinctively described as follows:

  • A focus on the sayings of Jesus as the key to understanding Jesus;
  • Emphasis on the criterion of double dissimilarity as the key to identifying authentic sayings of Jesus;
  • A “considerable skepticism about the historicity of any of the gospel material, especially narrative but also sayings materials’ (The Symbolic Jesus, p. 41).

But Arnal points out that all of that changed “with a vengeance” in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The Third Quest”

read more »


2014-04-12

Priorities

by Neil Godfrey

While we clog our synapses with irrelevant ancient texts let’s hope Guy McPherson has it wrong . . . . .

.

And part 2 with some pretty good priorities . . . . read more »


Shalom As Hegemony

by Neil Godfrey

fightingwordsI am currently absorbed in reading Hector Avalos’s book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. It’s giving me a lot to think about. Avalos challenges perspectives relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Islamic religion that I have often posted on this blog. It is too soon to post anything revisionist but I have just finished a snippet I can share in the meantime.

Self-serving translations are mostly responsible for representing the Hebrew shalom as “peace” in many instances in the Hebrew Bible.(Kindle, location 2178)

Hector Avalos shows us that both the etymology and use of the word in the Hebrew Bible relates to imperial dominance rather than benign relationships. He cites Gillis Gerleman:

Gerleman notes that the piel intensive, with some 90 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible, is the most frequent of all the verb forms of the root. Te normal Qal (ground) form occurs 8 times, the Hiphil (causative) form about 13 times. The noun form occurs some 240 times. The overwhelming meaning, whether as a verb or as a noun, is usually “repayment,” “reward,” or “retaliation.” (citation: page 4 of Gerleman, Gillis. “Die Wurzel [šlm].” Zeitschrift für die Altestamentliche Wissenschaft 85 (1973): 1-14.)

Take Job 22:21

Agree with God, and be at peace.

read more »


Historical Jesus Scholarship in a “Neoliberal” World

by Neil Godfrey

jesus-in-an-age-of-neoliberalism2This post and several ensuing ones will be about what we can learn about historical Jesus scholarship from the book Jesus In An Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology by Professor James Crossley.

The second half of this post addresses some background that readers should understand as they read my engagement with Crossley’s book. There I address Crossley’s personal animosity towards me and his conviction that my past treatment of his works has been grotesquely unfair.

Crossley’s main thesis is

to show how Jesus is a cultural icon in the sense that he is reconstructed by historians not simply as a figure for Galilee in the 20s and 30s but also, intentionally or not, as a figure for our ‘postmodern’ times. . . . (p. 8)

The thesis extends to arguing that the same Jesus becomes compatible with neoliberalism’s political agendas and very often subtly perpetuates “anti-Jewishness”.

[T]he emphasis could be placed on the greatest historic critic of our age, an obscure article in an evangelical journal or a rant on a blog: they all provide insight into our cultural contexts, irrespective of how good or bad they are. . . .

This book is at least as much about contemporary politics, ideology and culture as it is about Jesus, and in many ways, not least due to unfamiliar approaches in historical Jesus studies, this is almost inevitable. (pp. 8-10)

Obviously any cultural artefact provides insight into its cultural context, but when Crossley limits cultural context in his book to “postmodernism” and “neoliberalism” in their primarily political and racial-cultural manifestations I suspect he is presenting a two-dimensional perspective of scholarship. Quite often it appears his argument is another application of “parallelomania” in the sense that any scholarly interpretation that can be matched to a “neoliberal” or “postmodern” concept becomes the basis of his argument. His thesis would have been more deeply grounded had he been able to demonstrate more consistently, not just sporadically, how certain changes in views and presentations resulted from the direct interaction with political and cultural pressures.

Now I happen to agree with much of Crossley’s own political views. So in one major respect he had me onside from the beginning with Jesus In An Age of Neoliberalism, just as he did with his earlier companion book, Jesus in the Age of Terror. I found a number of aspects of his book insightful. I do think that in a number of instances he does make a sound case. Others, as I have indicated above, lacked rigour, were only superficially supported, ill-defined or simplistically conceived; and on occasion it seemed Crossley indulges in soap-box political declamations against his colleagues’ views while almost losing any solid relationship with historical Jesus studies. He appears to have assumed too much on the basis of partial evidence. Overall the book tends to read like an extended editorial opinion piece. So his preface overstates what follows when it says:

It is hoped that this book will establish the general case for the importance of the context of neoliberalism for understanding contemporary scholarship and for others to provide new case studies. This book is merely about certain examples of the impact of neoliberalism in understanding Jesus and contemporary scholarship. (pp. ix-x)

The “case studies” or “certain examples” in the book are of variable authenticity. Several names appear to have been dumped in the neoliberalism matrix with only superficial justifications that overlook evidence for alternative perspectives. Worst of all, one is left wondering if Crossley’s book is a thinly veiled swipe at scholarship that disagrees with his own (and his PhD supervisor Maurice Casey’s) problematic assumptions, methods and (even to some extent) conclusions about the historical Jesus and Christian origins. Unfortunately Crossley appears to have prepared in this book a rationale for dismissing anyone who disagrees with him on these points as “politically incorrect”.

But Crossley would protest:

I do not think that all historical Jesus scholarship is simply ‘reducible’ to an outworking of neoliberalism or simply historically wrong even if it does seem that way. I still have some sympathies with some fairly traditional modes of historical criticism and I am aware that there are strands of Jesus scholarship, and biblical scholarship, which can at least be felt threatening to power.(p. 14)

Examples of the latter are liberation theology in Latin America and works by Keith Whitelam and Nadia Abu El-Haj.

I hope to demonstrate what both the good and the not-so-good in this book tell us about contemporary Historical Jesus or Christian Origins scholarship.

In these posts (I expect they will be strung out over some weeks) I hope to point out where I think Crossley has got things spot on and where he could have got things a bit more spot on. More generally, I hope to demonstrate what both the good and the not-so-good in this book tell us about contemporary Historical Jesus or Christian Origins scholarship.

And I do invite James Crossley to notify me if at any point I misrepresent anything he has written and to explain clearly (civilly would be a bonus) exactly how I have done so.

So here we go.

read more »