2010-02-11

The circularity of historicist arguments

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by Neil Godfrey

Yet another parallel between creationism and mythicism is written up in another of James McGrath’s posts attempting to liken Jesus mythicism to Creationism: Accusations and Assumptions: Another Mythicist-Creationist Parallel.

MYTHICISM
E. P. Sanders (or insert other New Testament scholar or historian here) writes a book explaining why he believes the temple incident reflects an actual historical event.
Mythicists continue to say “The historicity of Jesus is merely an assumption historians and scholars make, none of their work actually addresses whether Jesus existed.

I have promised James McGrath a post detailing a response to what E.P. Sanders writes in Jesus in Judaism about the “Temple Action” of Jesus, and the criteria or methodology Sanders addresses. In the meantime, let me point out the fundamental flaw in this complaint by James. If James fails to see it, presumably others fail to see it, too.

Yes, certainly Sanders does explain why he believes the temple incident reflects an actual historical event. He explains most cogently that some such event is the only thing that makes sense of the overall plot of the gospel narrative, as well as subsequent references (those made at his trial and crucifixion) to “something” he did or said in relation to the temple. (I will cover all this in more detail in a post I plan/hope to write up in the next few days.)

Such a process is NOT addressing the question of the historicity of Jesus. Such a process is ASSUMING the historicity of Jesus, and attempting to understand or make sense of the narratives that are told about him. Perhaps without fully realizing it himself, or maybe he does, E. P. Sanders writes of his methodology on page 4 that it is an attempt “to understand Jesus“. Sanders raises a number of features about the gospel narratives that don’t make much sense as they are told, and writes:

What is needed is more secure evidence . . . which at least points towards an explanation of these historical puzzles. (p.5)

When Sanders does list the “indisputable facts” (p.11) of Jesus’ historical existence, he at no point argues for, or cites any reasons for how we can know they are indeed “indisputable facts”. He only cites the opinions of other authorities, such as Morton Smith, Anthony Harvey and Ernst Käsemann. Sanders’ purpose in his book, as he himself explains repeatedly in his introduction, is to explain the problems that such “indisputable facts” present us. (e.g. why he was crucified — there appears to be no clear historically plausible reason for his in the gospel narratives.)

And when he does present his arguments for this or that detail having some historical foundation, his arguments rest on the assumption that the gospels are “reports” of “traditions” that go back in some sense to (the historical) Jesus. In other words, if one takes Sanders’ arguments for the historicity of this or that incident in the gospels as arguments for the “historicity of Jesus”, one is riding on a circular argument.

A reputable bible scholar such as Burton Mack can argue that certain incidents in the gospels (e.g. the “temple cleansing”) are not historical because (1) their presence can be demonstrated to have been motivated by the need to fulfil a particular plot or theological function in the narrative, and/or (2) they can be demonstrated to be inspired by a desire to flesh out and “fulfil” Old Testament passages, and (3) there is no evidence for their occurrence outside the stories of the gospels.

But for some reason if Jesus mythicists argue along the same lines they are accused by James McGrath as arguing against the mainstream and therefore to be compared with “creationists”!

Odd detail of a painting of Jesus driving mone...

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odd detail of a painting of jesus driving money changers out . . . .

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30 Comments

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-02-11 23:01:07 UTC - 23:01 | Permalink

    I am beginning to wonder whether it is NT scholars who the Jesus mythicists should be trying to interact with. There’s just something about the religiosity of this field that makes it hard to address certain views. I think Hector Avalos lays this out nicely in his book. His chapter on the ‘unhistorical Jesus’ is especially relevant to this discussion.

    • 2010-02-12 09:12:01 UTC - 09:12 | Permalink

      I sometimes think the same. But is it not strange that someone like Dr James McGrath thinks it is legitimate to compare “mythicists” with creationists partly on the grounds that they do not engage the mainstream scholarship? It is mainstream scholarship (not Genesis or some other myth) that mythicist arguments are in in very large measure a response to. I think one advantage of engaging mainstream scholars is that it does expose to a wider audience the nature of the debate, and can be an eyeopener to how much substance each of the sides brings to it. So far the most mainstream scholarship seems to be able to offer in response is misrepresentation, slurs, and appeals to “authority” or “majority” views.

  • 2010-02-12 00:54:28 UTC - 00:54 | Permalink

    Neil,

    I have been amazed at the craziness of this issue. As you know, I asked James McGrath for a list of industry folks that had addressed and/or rebutted either Earl Doherty’s specific Jesus myth view, or any of the others like Bruno Bauer, or other ones.

    I was amazed at the ridicule that that request generated.

    Now, either the industry has addressed the view, or they haven’t. If they haven’t I think they should. If they have, it would be a simple matter form James McGrath to indicate those that have, or do some kind of simple searches with database tools available to industry member folks like himself to find them, and pass the info along.

    I am getting the impression that the industry is a somewhat inbred group.

    The good news is that with the internet, things like Submitting to journals, doing peer review, and communicating on a subject area are now much easier. What may end up happening is that the industry may find itself circumvented. If the industry is going to refuse to address questions that arise, I would imagine that provides a opportunity for others to create groups, and in effect create their own peer review journals.

    As a retired computer industry professional, I can tell you this is a very easy process with the tools that are now available. And while “Billy Bob’s Religion Journal” may not be respected, if any organization like the Atheist Alliance, or The Organization for Secular Humanism, or any group that gets created does create such a mechanism, it does have the potential of becoming a respected journal if it is run correctly.

    So while the Religious Studies industry may be able to hold off addressing some issues, they cannot forever. In fact, I would submit that NT Studies is really a new field, beginning in the early or mid-1800s or perhaps with Remarius. Just as The Church ignored or destroyed competing views back in the Dark Ages, if the religious studies industry is going to try to do the same, I will predict that they will fail.

    By failing to address view they deem “unworthy”, the religious studies industry is planting the seeds of their own downfall.

    Cheers! Rich Griese

    • 2010-02-12 09:22:46 UTC - 09:22 | Permalink

      It’s a nice thought, to think that Christianity itself is in its swansong days. But I am reluctant to be so optimistic. (Not that every bible scholar is a Christian, of course.)

      As for the peer-review argument (not quite what you are addressing here, I know), does anyone think that if someone like Drs Jeffrey Gibson or James McGrath were among the “blind” reviewers for a peer review journal that they would really pass anything that argued for mythicism? If nothing else an editor could declare its topic one that would tarnish the reputation and scholarly perception of the journal. I do not see how it could possibly be published.

      Appeals to peer-review etc are nothing other than appeals to argument from authority, and a tactic for avoiding the questions.

      • 2010-02-12 12:29:51 UTC - 12:29 | Permalink

        Neil, A number of things here. I don’t think that Christianity is in it’s swan-song. I am not even talking about Christianity here, I am talking about the religious academic community. I will soon be writing an essay on the subject of reorganizing the religious academic community where I will fully explain. But as a teaser. I don’t see any reason to have “religion” departments any longer. I think they should be weeded into two piles, History professors and ministers. Meaning, I would do away for Religion Departments. And move the courses into the History Departments. If a existing religious studies professional wanted to write on supernaturalism, he would get a job as a minister in some church.

        We already have Departments of history, and people can have concentrations in WW2, or American History, etc… Why do we need Religion departments? They are either writing on history, in which case they get moved into the history department, or they are really do evangelical work to promote some supernaturalistic view, in which case they would get a job as a church minister.

        I am be no means an expert industry watcher, but I have noticed a few things. It seems that the religious studies industry has special rules that either do not apply to other history studies, or they ignore certain tools or procedures used by other people studying history. I may have to give more details in my essays regarding history departments and humanities departments, but for example. My understanding is that that this Earl Doherty has a degree in “Classics”. To me, that is a humanities. So the question I have is, why is what he writes on NT scholarship outside the religious industry?

        It seems to me that religious scholarship is somewhat new, and as I said earlier perhaps starting in the 1840s or with Remarius. Now, the problem is that much of the “givens” that these scholars started with are really carry overs from “Church Tradition”. And nobody clearly started monitoring ‘wait… have we checked this claim/assumption out?” So ‘scholarship’ only has slowly evolved from what was basically before dogma. The movement from Religion departments into History departments would allow for a sort of Religion studies 2.0 to begin, like setting up a new server or blog, where things get checked before they get moved to the new system from the old system.

        With regards specifically to peer review, it is only in the last year that I clarified what exactly it is. and to be honest, I think it is shit, and would make a change. I assumed that peer review worked this way. A article was submitted to a journal and published, THEN other professionals commented on flaws they found in that article. I only last year found out that peer review is a process that happens BEFORE publication, not after it. to me, this creates a totally inbreeding potential in the industry, and acts as a preventative filter for making sure new ideas ARE NOT published.

        I would change the procedure. Today, publication space is virtually unlimited. I would create input journals, very much like blogs, where professionals (or anyone actually) could upload and submit articles. These would not be screen for “acceptance”, but would be published. People and groups would then form to monitor this input log, and would notice good potential. The potentially good ideas would then get kicked around by the entire world, and anyone would be able to add a “post publication comment”. It would be these post online publication comments that would kill most of the articles, working as a filter to screen out shit. As the shit got screened out for logical flaws, obviously consistency problems, etc… these articles would go “up the stream” so to speak. All these procedures exist in the computer industry. There are very sophisticated systems that allows thousands of open source programmers to create, debug, and maintain millions of lines of code.

        In the few interactions I have had found a very closed community of “gatekeepers”, and people that tend to want to tell others what to conclude, while at the same time feeling it is demeaning to them to have to give reasons for their views. Honestly, I see religious scholarship as a industry that is totally broken, and the time is right, with web tools, and open communication that we have today to destroy this “old boy network”.

        Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that scholarship is not a valuable trade. And I am not saying that my views are as valid as a famous professional in the field. But what I am saying is that the NT scholarship field needs to be changed from a kind of “old boys club”, into a “free and open market place”. Some unknown may have an idea that revolutionizes NT studies. In the past, with paper, Journals and abstracts and indexes had their place. But let’s be honest… let’s take an abstract… is there really any reason for them any longer? Can’t search mechanism search entire journal articles? My understanding was that an abstract was almost like a Google hash that allowed a journal to be search without having to be read. That older databases would search abstracts of articles to answer some query that a scholars had in looking for something, and that is even a new development from a time where the indexes were printed, etc…

        The point is that there are millions of people interested in NT studies, and with the explosion of the Googlelyweb many more of them can contribute to the field that are currently allowed.

        Cheers!
        RichGriese.NET

  • Pingback: RichGriese.NET » re; The circularity of historicist arguments

  • 2010-02-12 12:39:44 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

    Hey Neil, I added a big fat comment to you addressing your prior comment to me. I don’t know if they go to some moderation area, or if it was just plain to big to input. I have added it in full here; http://richgriese.net/154

    If the comment does show up here… if not, you might pop over to that article to read the comment I tried to post here.

    Cheers! Rich Griese

    • 2010-02-12 13:01:14 UTC - 13:01 | Permalink

      Thanks for letting me know. I just found it in my spam folder. Don’t know why. Do you use the word ‘viagra’ in it? Anyway, it’s right now and appears above.

  • 2010-02-12 08:17:01 UTC - 08:17 | Permalink

    Neil, I have watched this debate closely and I respect you for providing one of the most nuanced and respectful defenses of mythicism on the web, though I personally still agree with the general scholarly consensus on the question of Jesus historicity and that EP Sanders “Jesus and Judaism” is a very significant book (my brief argument for historicity at http://thegoldenrule1.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/the-historicity-of-jesus/). I am not sure your argument demands one jettison the historical existence of Jesus, as it sounds to me more like Burton Mack’s article “The Historical Jesus Hoopla,” in The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, Legacy. (New York: Continuum, 2001) which allows for Jesus’ existence but that we have no access to him behind the many different Christian portrayals of him. In response to Bill Warrant, I don’t think this debate should be framed in terms of the “religiousity of the [NT] field”, as there are numerous Jewish (Vermes, Fredriksen, Levine, Flusser, etc.) and secular (Ehrman, Casey, Crossley, Lüdemann, etc.) scholars who have written important work on the historical Jesus, while at least one mythicist (Tom Harpur, “the Pagan Christ”) is a confessing liberal Christian. As for Rich, again I am not aware of any peer-reviewed journal articles on Doherty (and note that the Jesus Seminar journal “The Fourth R” refused to provide a forum for it), but here is what I found. If you want responses to Robert Price, check out “The Historical Jesus: Five Views” where Crossan, Dunn, Johnson and Bock respond to Price and vice-versa. I think evangelical scholar RT France has a book that makes a case for historicity and John P. Meier’s “Marginal Jew” series is a definity read as he envisions a papal enclave where a Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and secular scholar must try to hammer out a consensus view of the historical Jesus and has an in-depth discussion of sources (canonical, extra-canonical, Josephus, rabbinic, etc.) and how scholars weigh the criteria. As for Doherty, evangelical NT scholar Darrell Bock dedicated a whole blog series to Doherty at …. blog.bible.org/bock/search/node/the+jesus+puzzle [link no longer active, 16th August 2015 — Neil] and Chris Zeichman (PhD candidate, Toronto) has a online paper critiquing Doherty’s views on the Q sayings source http://neonostalgia.com/resources/bible/fearandloathing.html

    Neil’s addition 16th August: In place of the broken link re Bock’s critique of Doherty’s thesis above (via http://www.rayfowler.org/2007/10/18/darrell-bock-works-through-the-jesus-puzzle/ ):

    Point 1: Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel Story
    Point 2: The Josephus Citation about Jesus
    The Debated Josephus Text – Antiquities 18.63-64
    Point 3: Paul and the Epistles
    Point 4: The Roots of Resurrection
    Point 5: The Ancient Greco-Roman Dualism of Platonism
    Point 6: Mystery Religions and Christianity
    Point 7: Paul, the Intermediary Son, Wisdom and Logos
    Point 8: Gospel Roots
    Point 9: The Nature of the Gospels — Midrash?
    Point 10: “Q”
    Point 11: The Early Christian Movement
    Point 12: The Human Jesus

    – See more at: http://www.rayfowler.org/2007/10/18/darrell-bock-works-through-the-jesus-puzzle/#sthash.W2xKdS17.dpuf

    • 2010-02-12 09:26:20 UTC - 09:26 | Permalink

      Thanks for the links. Will have a look and respond. (As for Darrell Bock, I got the impression he is a fundamentalist apologist from one of his books. Maybe not, but I seem to recall trying to wade through more than a fair share of faith-based assumptions and circularities.)

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-16 08:43:12 UTC - 08:43 | Permalink

      Doherty’s reply to Zeichman: http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/CritiquesZeich.htm

      There is also an exchange between Doherty and Zeichman at http://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/showthread2059-2.html?t=206978&page=7

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-08-19 03:51:25 UTC - 03:51 | Permalink

      I am very belatedly responding to the reference here to Darrell Bock’s “whole blog series” on Earl Doherty’s Christ Myth argument. (I had forgotten to follow through at the time and only recently while searching for and repairing broken links did it resurface.)

      I don’t know if you are likely to see this response, Mike, but it does seem odd to have presented Bock’s “whole blog series” as worth the time of day with respect to Doherty’s thesis. Nowhere does Bock engage with Doherty’s arguments. To anyone who has read either of Doherty’s books on mythicism (either the short or long one), it is immediately clear that Bock has not even opened the cover of either.

      Doherty lists 12 dot points, sort of chapter headings and website headers, that he proceeds to justify in the subsequent pages of his books — and on his website. All Bock has done is take each of these brief chapter or website headers and say, “No, that’s not true,” and proceed to give his own view (Doherty cannot be right on any of them, of course) completely oblivious of any of Doherty’s actual arguments.

      So the “whole blog series” of Bock never once touches upon Doherty’s actual arguments for any of the 12 points. It is evident that Bock has not even read beyond those 12 summary sentences.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-12 16:22:18 UTC - 16:22 | Permalink

    NEIL
    I sometimes think the same. But is it not strange that someone like Dr James McGrath thinks it is legitimate to compare “mythicists” with creationists partly on the grounds that they do not engage the mainstream scholarship?

    CARR
    I thought mythcists spent all their time picking holes in mainstream scholarship?

    Meanwhile, mainstream scholars like Dunn cite the following as evidence for a historical Jesus , as he does on page 96 (IIRC) of his ‘refutation’ of Price.

    Romans 15:3
    For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

    How can a quote from the Old Testament be evidence for the historical Jesus, even if a Jamed Dunn declares that it is?

    Especially as Paul follows it up by being vocal about where his teaching comes from.

    Paul is so vocal about where his teaching comes from and what gives Christians encouragement and hope that historicists are forced to say that Paul is silent, to avoid listening to him.

    • 2010-02-12 16:30:20 UTC - 16:30 | Permalink

      And when “mythicists” write in depth reviews of the scholarly literature, and address the scholarship throughout their publications, and engage with leading historical Jesus scholars online, Associate Professor James McGrath says they never engage the mainstream scholarship.

      It’s a kind of novel twist to the argument from silence.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-12 16:40:01 UTC - 16:40 | Permalink

    ZEICHMAN on Doherty
    This attempted harmonization is once again found in Doherty’s parenthetical note that the son of man will come to judge in Q, something that is simply untrue. Nowhere in Q is it said or implied that the son of man or Jesus will judge anyone.

    CARR
    How does this refutation of Doherty imply that there is a historical Jesus, when this hypothetical Q community is shown by Zeichman to have no Jesus as a judge.

    ZEICHMAN
    Doherty also makes some other claims about the son of man in Q without backing them up, including his claim that there is no identification of the son of man with a historical Jesus. This section ought to discuss Q 7:33-34, as it is more than just a proverbial reference in a generic or indefinite sense, clearly referring to a specific person in its contrast to John the Baptist. Additionally, Q 6:22 seems to have a specific founder in the background…

    CARR
    ‘Referring to a specific person’?

    ‘Seems’ to have a specific founder?

    ZEICHMAN
    Jesus, though, seems to serve as a symbol of the current Q2 community, preaching repentance, being rejected by Galilean cities, and remembering the ones having come before him.

    CARR
    Even Zeichman claims Jesus was a symbol of Zeichman’s quite hypothetical Q2 community.

    ZEICHMAN
    There are a number of more probable options that Doherty does not consider: that this saying was a gloss later added to the document…

    CARR
    Yes, historicists have no problems with interpolations whenever they want to add one…

    ZEICHMAN
    Moreover, the well-known defense of Jesus’ ethos in Q2 is probably best understood as presuming that the Q2 community accepted a historical Jesus. Even though Jesus clearly stands as a community symbol, the Q2 community seems to have conceived of him as a historical figure as well.

    CARR
    SO Zeichman claims it is ‘clear’ that Zeichman’s totally hypothetical Q2 community conceived of Jesus as a symbol, and Zeichman claims it only ‘seems’ to have conceived of him as a historical figure as well.

    ZEICHMAN
    Of course, there is not great evidence to suggest that the Q community, at any level, was familiar with Pauline theology or any other Jesus people, and the idea that the Q community would use this name without reason is a clear example of begging the question.

    CARR
    In fact, there is no great evidence for this Q community, who apparently cut themselves off from any other ‘Jesus people’.

    ZEICHMAN
    Instead, Q plays but a small part in his gonzo scholarship,…

    CARR
    SO Zeichman recognises that if historicists could even demonstrate that these Q1 Q2 and Q3 documents existed, it would have little effect on the main body of Doherty’s scholarship.

    ZEICHMAN
    The proposal that Luke and Matthew would have independently used a document with an anonymous founder and presumed that the teachings within were the product of the same individual is in need of evidence…

    CARR
    So how did Luke and Matthew use Mark, if historicists cannot even produce evidence for the idea that ‘Luke’ and ‘Matthew’ would have used the same document?

    ZEICHMAN
    One possible explanation for many of the problems with Doherty’s use of KH is his heavy dependence on Burton Mack’s The Lost Gospel.

    CARR
    Idiot mythicists! They will rely on the scholarship of accepted respected scholars….

  • 2010-02-12 16:51:12 UTC - 16:51 | Permalink

    ZEICHMAN
    There are a number of more probable that Doherty does not consider: that this saying was a gloss later added to the document…

    CARR
    Yes, historicists have no problems with interpolations whenever they want to add one…

    The irony of the exceptionalism modern biblical scholarship demands for the bible in not allowing the same expectation of interpolations found in nonbiblical ancient literature, is that the whole discipline of “form criticism” is built on the assumption of layer upon layer of interpolation.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-12 16:58:39 UTC - 16:58 | Permalink

    I’m not sure what all this talk of Q1, Q2 and Q3 documents and them ending up in Luke/Matthew is except interpolations on an heroic scale.

    If Christians could do that to each other’s work, surely some Christian somewhere would have felt the need to make a change to Josephus.

  • 2010-02-12 18:35:53 UTC - 18:35 | Permalink

    Responding to

    Rich Griese Says:
    2010/02/12 at 12:29 pm

    You are not alone in calling for biblical studies and/or religion to be incorporated into other “real” disciplines. Yes, biblical studies demands a number of exceptional methodologies that would not be tolerated in “real” history and literature studies.

    Some of the most innovative insights on the Gospel of Mark (in my experience at least) have come from literature scholar Kermode. I have discussed aspects of his work here. It is not surprising that some of the major mythicist publications have come from scholars or student from outside the biblical studies field — from philosophy, literature and the classics.

    The advantage such people have is that they do not bring the institutional “thought correctness” baggage with them when looking at the questions and arguments.

    I have gained the most from those biblical scholars who have also drawn heavily on classical studies when they interpret the bible literature.

    Of course there is always the danger that some such publications will be nonsense. But hell. Most people do have a few brains. Do we really think that the notion that Christianity was an invention of the Roman imperial class is going to go anywhere?

    But as for Atlantis theories and Creationism, the establishment scholars have no need to resort to slander or misrepresentation when refuting them. And the public can make up their own mind when they see the exchange.

    So perhaps the tactics of the likes of Associate Professor James McGrath will in the long run count against him and his obsession.

    As for peer review, at least where I come from it is also “blind”. That is, the pre-publication reviewers do not know whose work they are reviewing. (At least technically or in theory. Of course individual content styles can inevitably give the game away in some cases.)

    Abstracts still have their uses. But as for global full-text searching, the biggest hurdle to that at the moment is antiquated copyright law. As that is being steadily modified, the technologies are there and ready and able to meet the demands. But additions of a few controlled vocabularies from reputable establishments (or structures placed on social tagging) will make them even more explosively powerful.

  • GakuseiDon
    2010-02-13 09:56:29 UTC - 09:56 | Permalink

    Neil, you have been asked a few times to lay out the mythicist case. You have said that you were starting to suspect that James wasn’t “serious about understanding the mythicist case”. He didn’t want him to “embrace rumour or second hand information” about the mythicist case.

    There are quite a few mythicist cases out there, and some of them are clearly rubbish, like Acharya S’s. It would help enormously if you could outline what the mythicist case is, so that we aren’t relying on rumour or second hand information.

    Also, I think you have said that you are not a mythicist yourself. Can I ask why not, and what problems you find with mythicism?

  • 2010-02-13 10:10:55 UTC - 10:10 | Permalink

    GakuseiDon,

    There are a number of different Jesus myth theories. Here is one you can read right online.

    Earl Doherty’s Jesus myth view

    Cheers!
    RichGriese.NET

  • GakuseiDon
    2010-02-13 10:20:33 UTC - 10:20 | Permalink

    Rich, thanks. I know that there are a number of different Jesus myth theories. I have gone through Doherty’s website and both his books and found terminal problens there. For example, his Sublunar Incarnation Theory is not supported by the evidence, and in fact the evidence is against it. At least, in my humble opinion as a layman.

    Rich, is Doherty’s theory the best possible mythicist case, in your opinion?

  • 2010-02-13 10:39:59 UTC - 10:39 | Permalink

    GakuseiDon,

    To be honest, it’s the only one that I know the details of. I know Bruno Bauer had one back in the 1840s, and I understand there are others, but Doherty’s is the only one I have read completely.

    I tend to be very much of a generalist, and the idea of a create Jesus never struck me a outlandish at the basic level. We know that when early Christians explained their view to some of the first wave of pagan listeners, one common pagan response was “yes, so… it’s a pretty standard story, a dying and rising savior, we have heard that story dozens of times…”. So if the Christian could respond, “yeah, but this guy really lived” that would make the story slightly different. So, I can see a certainly reasonable motivation for creating such a historical character. I have no idea if that happened, but what I am saying is that it is certainly a reasonable explanation.

    I find Doherty raises a number of very good issues. I like the fact that Doherty is thinking about early Christianity from a different approach than what seems avoid just assuming the prior standard assumptions.

    One thing I have noticed in NT scholarship is that many if not most of the concepts that are accepted are really carry overs from Church dogma. In say the 1800s or late 1700s when NT scholarship really began, one of the problems is that they did not start to list the assumptions they would begin with, and list their “proof texts” or whatever the word would be. so as scholarship began to evolve it started with a lot dogma baggage. I think that much of that baggage has remained, and the only with time will each of the assumptions eventually be examined.

    NT studies is really in it’s infancy stage as far as I am concerned.

    Cheers!
    RichGriese.NET

  • GakuseiDon
    2010-02-13 12:24:45 UTC - 12:24 | Permalink

    Hi Rich,

    We know that when early Christians explained their view to some of the first wave of pagan listeners, one common pagan response was “yes, so… it’s a pretty standard story, a dying and rising savior, we have heard that story dozens of times…”. So if the Christian could respond, “yeah, but this guy really lived” that would make the story slightly different.

    Actually, that sounds like a quote from Dr Bob Price on “The God Who Wasn’t There” movie. In fact, it was the opposite: pagans seemed to be saying that the story of a crucified god like Jesus was silly, and it was Christians like Justin Martyr who tried to convince them otherwise by saying “No, we propound nothing different from you guys.” I have a webpage that covers this here:
    http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/Diabolical_Mimicry.htm

    On Doherty’s theory: I think the main problem is his Sublunar Incarnation Theory. That’s what comes up most often in reviews and discussion. I’ve looked through the resources that Doherty has used, and I can assure you they don’t support it (I’m just a layman myself though). In fact, the resources tend to go **against** Doherty’s theory. I think the more you understand Middle Platonism and the thinking back then, the more you see the problems mount up. I will be doing a thorough review of all the sources that Doherty uses on this topic in his latest book, which I’m hoping to complete by June., that I hope will be useful for those interested in that part of Doherty’s theory.

    I don’t see that scholarship today is a holdover from Church dogma myself. There are a lot of interesting ideas around earliest Christianity that go quite against Church dogma. But I agree that the historical Jesus has been assumed to have existed, and that needs to be questioned.

    Don

  • 2010-02-13 14:25:01 UTC - 14:25 | Permalink

    Hey GakuseiDon,

    That’s funny you say the example idea I was using sounds like a quote from Bob Price. I happen to know Bob. I don’t think I picked that idea up from him, but I could have. In any event, it’s really unimportant where an idea comes from, it’s more the idea. And it is an idea that seems very reasonable to me. In any event, i am sure that it is just one of many reasons explaining a motivation for the creation of a Jesus character. I have thought of a half dozen or so reasons for the creation of such a character over the years, so the idea is certainly reasonable.

    I guess when all is said and done, time perhaps will tell if there was a historical Jesus or not. Perhaps we will never know. I guess we have to continue to examine the various hypothesis for both a historical and non-historical Jesus until one of them ends up being demonstrated.

    I am glad that Earl Doherty’s Jesus myth view and the other Jesus myth views are gaining more and more traction. I think it helps the industry.

    Cheers!
    RichGriese.NET

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  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-14 06:52:33 UTC - 06:52 | Permalink

    Mythiscism and 1 Thessalonians wrote:
    “I am surprised discussion has not turned to 1 Thess […]”

    Which only makes the the Doherty fans scream “INTERPOLATION, INTERPOLATION, INTERPOLATION…”

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-14 07:58:53 UTC - 07:58 | Permalink

    It is not just Doherty fans who claim that passage is an interpolation.

    Why does Paul claim the Jews killed Jesus, when everybody knew that crucifixion was a Roman killing?

  • 2010-02-14 08:04:36 UTC - 08:04 | Permalink

    Antonio, “Doherty fans” (and the image of them “screaming”) is derogatory language that insinuates people do not think for themselves. It is certainly condescending. They may not all be as well trained in thinking about some issues as you are, or as well informed on some of the issues, but that is no reason to use this sort of language. Let’s keep the tone of the debate professional and educative.

    As for interpolation, Doherty is actually making his own case based on the peer-reviewed (presumably) scholarly publications of the likes of Birger A. Pearson (1971) and Darryl Schmidt (1983). I have discussed these indirectly in a post addressing Eddy and Boyd’s argument that this Thess passage is original to Paul.

    I do not accept the a priori assertion that “interpolation” is necessarily a bad starting option in an argument relating to biblical texts. As I summarized in my preceding post on Eddy and Boyd, given what we know about the culture of interpolations and forgeries in the ancient world, it is inappropriate for biblical scholarship to insist on some sort of exceptionalism.

    (The big irony is that “form criticism” is itself a methodology that is built squarely on the assumption of layer upon layer of interpolation!)

  • 2010-02-14 08:40:38 UTC - 08:40 | Permalink

    GakuseiDon,

    I have been known to place my elbows on the dinner table and I confess that there have been times when I have rudely interrupted someone, but I have never presumed to follow a person around and repeatedly ask them to write an assignment on a topic I want to see from them.

    Once again you demonstrate an incomprehension of what I have actually written. I was addressing James McGrath’s choice to publicly insult people for holding views that he has not himself bothered to investigate through the available standard channels. I admit my response to him (asking him to actually read what it was and get his information first hand before making such insults) was misguided. It should not matter even if he has first hand knowledge. Nothing excuses his insults.

    I may plead for some justification, however. If James does take the effort to read what it is he thinks is comparable to his personal description of “creationism”, then he will be in a position to make an informed and incisive case for public edification without any of the slurs. Like the way Michael Shermer does. Or even like the way I have demonstrated can be done when pulling apart Atlantis belief.

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