Daily Archives: 2010-03-02 19:12:28 UTC

The insurmountable wall that preserves both church and academy

I have just been alerted to a post on FRDB that quotes a blogpost by April DeConick, Self-Preservation and the Gospel of John.

University and Church

University and Church: Image by Andreika via Flickr

. . . . . what is coming home for me in a very real way is just how much the traditions are safe-guarded by the dominant group – be it the mainstream churches or the academy – and how far the dominant group will go to protect them. The interests and preservation of those interests often become the end-all, even at the expense of historical truth. The rationalizations, the apologies, the ‘buts’, the tortured exegesis, the negative labeling, the side-stepping, the illogical claims accumulate until they create an insurmountable wall that preserves both church and academy, which remain (uncomfortably so for me) symbiotic.

The entrenchment of the academy is particularly worrisome for me. Scholars’ works are often spun by other scholars, not to really engage in authentic critical debate or review, but to cast the works in such a way that they can be dismissed (if they don’t support the entrenchment) or engaged (if they do). . . . . The quest for historical knowledge does not appear to me to be the major concern. It usually plays back seat to other issues including the self-preservation of the ideas and traditions of the dominant parties – those who control the churches, and the academy with its long history of alliance with the churches.

I link above to April’s comments on her site, and some of the discussion (and related links) on FRDB.

Forgive me if I happen to see something of James McGrath’s recent exchanges described in the above — although April herself is certainly no “mythicist”.

I am also surprised how her publication The Thirteenth Apostle seems to have made less impact on the popular notion of the “good Judas” than I had expected.

Good grief! If this is the fate of challenging ideas within the guild, anyone with a mythical Jesus view would need rocks in his head to even touch the subject with a mainstream academic.

Not quite on the same wave, but it reminds me of how Gregory Riley’s work in Resurrection Reconsidered was not widely known although his arguments just happened to appear later (with no acknowledged link to Riley’s work, so presumably by sheer coincidence) in a work of the highly marketable author Elaine Pagels. (When Robert Price published the same observation, it was disheartening to think how things really do seem to work in the real world of academe.)

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Three approaches to researching the mythical Jesus phenomenon

Here are three methodologies used by mainstream biblical scholars for enquiring into the arguments for the historical Jesus with which I have had some direct contact.

The first is by an early twentieth century scholar of some repute even today; the second by an “reverent agnostic” scholar; and the third by a liberal Christian scholar (guess).

1. Albert Schweitzer’s method for researching and addressing the arguments for a mythical Jesus

  1. Read all the mythical Jesus publications that have been printed.
  2. Present an annotated bibliography of this mythical Jesus literature.
  3. Discuss in some detail the full mythical Jesus arguments of each author, and the development of each argument across an author’s career, and the relationship of the arguments to one another.
  4. Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each of these arguments.
  5. Admit the logical premise on which all historical methodology is based, and go two steps further and admit that the study of Christian origins is doubly problematic since all its sources are themselves Christian: there are NO external controls in order to enable even a statement of “positive probability”.
  6. Argue that the Church ought to build its foundation on a metaphysic, and not on any historical datum. Seriously admit the theoretical possibility of having to abandon an historical Jesus.
  7. Lament the insulting tones in which the debate has been conducted.
  8. Appeal for civility and reason, and an acceptance at least of the legitimacy of the mythical Jesus arguments and questions.
  9. Concede that the evidence of Josephus and Tacitus is worthless for establishing the historicity of Jesus.
  10. Disagree with the mythical Jesus arguments in a civil and professional manner, and even advise what mythicists need to do to establish their case more persuasively. This advice is constructive in terms of type of argumentation needed, and not sideways putdowns such as “getcha self a peer review!”

That was in the early twentieth century. By the end of the century and at the turn of the new, Dr Jeffrey Gibson offered his research and rebuttal methodology.

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