by Neil Godfrey
-- updated with edits 4 hours after original post --
Why do academics, public intellectuals of all people, need to resort to abuse, insult, apparently deliberate misrepresentation and outright fabrication in order to counter a view they believe to be wrong?
James appears to be bowing out from his public mockery of arguments for a mythical Jesus with this one final lying insult:
I think, with Neil Godfrey’s help, I finally understand mythicism. It is a belief system in which, when asked about the historical figure of Jesus, you answer by mentioning William Tell, Rama, the God of the Bible and Atlantis. You then assume that these figures are comparable to Jesus of Nazareth in terms of the historical evidence. You then once again blame the other party for unfairly demeaning this viewpoint.
Oh, and don’t forget to cite Wikipedia and yourself as your sources, just to bolster your credibility.
This interaction has been interesting, but it has already begun to become repetitive. I have some exciting projects that I’ve begun or will be beginning work on, with which I expect to do one thing that mythicists tend not to: submit them for peer review. And so I expect to focus in the coming weeks and months on those and other more interest and challenging tasks.
James response here demonstrates to me that he was never for a minute interested in genuinely understanding the mythicist case, despite his repetitive pleas that he really was so genuinely “interested”.
The E. P. Sanders challenge and response
James challenged his readers to go through Sanders point by point and see if anyone could come up with a different conclusion. James knows I began to do this, and he has responded with silence and finally insult.
James has failed to point to a single mainstream biblical scholar who has actually addressed the question of Jesus’ existence — as opposed to assuming his existence. And I have demonstrated from Sanders’ book that Sanders is included here. James has responded with silence then insult.
The messianic expectation evidence and response
James insisted that there is abundant evidence for general Jewish expectations of a Davidic messiah at the time of Jesus, and told me to “read a book” when pressed for that evidence. I replied that I had read that book, and that it was what convinced me there was no such evidence, and I gave him evidence from other scholars to demonstrate that there was no such evidence. James has replied with silence then insult.
The evidence for earliest Christian belief and response
James insisted that there was evidence that the earliest Christians believed Jesus was a man and not a divinity, and when pressed he eventually produced Philippians 2, along with one interpretation that attempts to see Jesus being described as a second Adam and not a divinity. Apart from the arguably tendentious nature of the interpretation, I pointed out that in Second Temple Judaism Adam was believed to be a divine or angelic being first and foremost anyway. James has only ever responded with silence then insults.
Historical methodology and response
James remained ignorant throughout the exchange of genuine historical methodology in areas of history outside his narrow field of New Testament studies and seems to genuinely believe that NT “criteria of authenticity” are well established norms for all historical disciplines, although they might be named or defined differently by NT scholars. After I pointed out to him that not even all NT scholars conceded their value, and exposed their fallacies, and that other history departments have very different standards, James has responded with insult.
When I presented to him more supportable, logical and widely used criteria and normal historical methodologies, James responded repeatedly (so therefore apparently deliberately) with a false and misrepresentating rewording of what I wrote.
James seems to find such calls for him to support his assertions with evidence, and to answer the evidence produced by myself and others, as “repetitive”. He has only ever responded with insult.
Final remarks of sarcasm and ignorance
James has said he is quite content to rely on internet exchanges for all he needs to think he knows about mythicism. Yet he mocks my citation of Wikipedia. He is ignorant of the comparative standing of Wikipedia vis a vis Encyclopedia Brittanica. Does James prefer to cite sources that none but a privileged few can access?
(If James had bothered to actually follow a Wikipedia link he would have known their functions. But if he did know that, he would not have been able to honestly claim I was linking to add credibility to my argument. Better for him not to check the facts. That way when he delivers another arm-chair insult he can plead ignorance.)
James also sarcastically mocks me for linking to my own posts where I discuss some topics more fully. He did not make the same criticism for my linking to the books and sites of mainstream scholars or his own blogposts.
Will James only respect arguments that acknowledge the authority of his peers?
Is this James’ own way of deflecting attention from the fact he has failed to answer any of the questions about methodology and evidence put to him on behalf of the mythical Jesus argument? James finds insult a much easier response.
Why me and us?
I must protest at James’ flattery for suggesting I speak for — or even present arguments found among — mythicists. But James does seem to have narrowed his sights on to me as his target for much of this exchange, and attempted to denigrate the larger argument for a mythical Jesus by twisting my words or ripping them out of context. (Not only me, but I was very surprised to see him use my arguments as representative of “mythicism” — or rather he did not so much use them as reshape them into straw men in every single case, I think.)
I am glad I was able to help James understand that William Tell, Rama, God and Atlantis are all fair examples of mythical characters. Unfortunately he has missed the actual argument I used them with which to make a point about the difference between “a case” and “having reasons”. And once again, repetitively, he misrepresented my argument completely.
I guess when someone admits he has not read the publications of those whose arguments he “thinks about a lot” and publicly denigrates, then misrepresentation of anything I or others of this viewpoint write is par for the course with James. He appears to have been looking for keywords that he can latch on to, rip out of context, for the purpose of making fun of the correspondent. Perhaps if I ignored him he would have not bothered to have attempted to equate my arguments with “mythicism”.
But it is certainly not just me, of course. Many others have also challenged James and James has rarely treated their comments with any sustained respect. There may be moments of civility, but the leopard’s spots are soon enough displayed again with the next post. Steven Carr’s barbs, in particular, reminded me of the boy who cried out “Look, the emperor is not wearing any clothes!” And everyone tells him to hush hush, and the parade carries on as if nothing has been said at all.
I am sorry this exchange with James has turned out this way.
But I chose not to let James get away with his ignorant slurs and insults as a public intellectual who has a higher responsibility to society, and which were also against some people I consider friends.
I wonder if he was expecting an easy ride and was a bit taken aback when he found “mythicists” knew more about the evidence and methodologies published by his mainstream peers than he seemed to have at his fingertips. When he spoke about “tools of authenticity” used by his guild, he seemed to think he was talking to an audience who would just accept his proclamation as “the way it is with us professors”. He could only go into silence when we threw the real status of those criteria back at him.
I am reminded of another academic who once suggested I read F. F. Bruce to learn the real scholarly understanding of Josephus’s “Testimonium/Jesus reference.” I had read the equivalent of volumes on the topic by specialists and those exploring the argument in depth. When I located the Bruce reference, it was a page of dot points and not much more! I suspected then I knew more about the topic than he did, and that he had not even bothered to read the arguments he was opposing. He also could only respond with insult when I exposed the flaws in what he seemed to have accepted from Bruce without question. Do many academics have this sort of disdain for those who are not part of their inner guild?
Is this how outsiders are normally treated when they blow the whistle on academics who are not quite as professional as they should be?
Albert Schweitzer is SO twentieth century!
It has been most instructive about the level of argumentation biblical scholars rely on for their “historical Jesus”.
Albert Schweitzer is dead, but he has said it all:
The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century.
Michael Shermer and Jerry Coyne can write incisive answers to creationist arguments in respectful and reasoned manners. If James really thinks mythicism is like creationism (they both have different shades of opinion, he said in one justification of his comparison), he has demonstrated that even with his standing as an associate professor he is incapable of doing likewise.