“Partisanship” in New Testament scholarship

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by Neil Godfrey

Utrecht 11 Feb 09 (25)

Image by jimforest via Flickr

In 2006 James Crossley‘s Why Christianity Happened was published. (James G. Crossley belongs to the University of Sheffield, the same whose Biblical Studies program was the subject of international controversy late last year, and with which a recent commenter on this blog was heatedly involved.) As “a sociohistorical account of Christian origins (26-50 CE)” (the book’s subtitle) I found it left much unanswered, but I did find some of his remarks in his introductory chapter on the history of New Testament historiography and its application of social sciences of interest. Here are a few excerpts:

Will always get largely Christian results

As it stands presently, NT scholarship will always get largely Christian results, be they the nineteenth-century liberal lives of Jesus, the Bultmannian dominated neo-Lutheranism, or the results of smaller subgroups, such as the social reformer/critic Cynic Jesus associated with the Jesus Seminar: all different but all recognizably Christian. (p. 23)

A dubious academic field

Crossley cites Maurice Casey as noting that, although major British universities do indeed genuinely hire on merit, “when some 90 percent of more of the applicants are Protestant Christians, a vase majority of Christian academics is the natural result. Moreover, the figure of Jesus is of central importance in colleges and universities which are overtly Protestant or Catholic, and which produce a mass of books and articles . . .  The overall result of such bias is to make the description of New Testament Studies as an academic field a dubious one.

Crossley remarks with regret that the September 2000 annual British New Testament Conference “opened with both a glass of wine and a Christian prayer. . .”

should an academic meeting that explicitly has no official party line really hold a collective prayer at its opening . . . ? . . . Would other contemporary conferences in the humanities outside theology and biblical studies even contemplate prayer? Would the participants of nontheological conferences even believe that other academic conferences do such things?

Turning back the Enlightenment

Crossley points to “a particularly significant example”, a “subgroup of biblical scholarship associated with social-scientific approaches”. Such groups “often require defenses against accusations of reductionism and secularism.” (p. 23)  He remarks on Philip Esler addressing fellow delegates at a 1994 conference with:

Then we too may reach Emmaus, having had the experience described in the words from the Scots version of Luke’s Gospel as read at the liturgy . . . . (p.24)

Despite the diverse views of the delegates at this St Andrews Conference on New Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences,

crucially, all the differences were ultimately harmonized under the umbrella of Christian faith.

Stephen Barton of Durham University’s Department of Theology and Religion has warned “that the epistemological roots of much social-scientific methodology lie in Enlightenment atheism and so,

awareness of this genealogy should also act as a safeguard against unwittingly allowing the agenda of interpretation to shift in a secularizing direction, away from evangelical imperatives native to the NT itself and central to the concerns of those who read the NT with a view to growing in the knowledge and love of God. (p. 16)

I had thought the Enlightenment was a good thing, and secularism in academia the way forward to further enlightenment. Even as a staunch Christian I used to thank both God and the Devil for allowing secularism to bring tolerance for all and the possibility of unfettered enquiry. (Well, maybe I am now thinking I wished I had thanked the Devil too.)

Resurrection and Virgin Birth

Crossley continues:

It is because of this scholarly context that some quite peculiar academic arguments can be made and most frequently in what would seem to be historically unlikely cases, such as the resurrection and virgin birth. It is only in the world of NT scholarship and theology that when Jesus’ resurrection is studied, the major historical debates focus around whether or not these supposed events are beyond historical enquiry or if the “spiritual meaning” is more important than the literal understanding. In this context, major proponents (e.g. Gerd Lüdemann and Michael Goulder) of the bodily resurrection not happening are often regarded (rightly or wrongly (sic)) as mavericks.

We recently saw this illustrated almost verbatim by Associate Professor of Butler University James McGrath. (In my Did Jesus Exist on Youtube post I discuss how James made that statement — that “a historian” cannot study the resurrection so he must study “the crucifixion” and explain Christianity with reference to that.)

Historically naïve (twice over)

Crossley comments on a work titled An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus. The “interdisciplinary” should not be confused with contributors coming from fields as diverse as ancient history, history, sociology or anthropology. No, the term covers, rather, the comparatively inbred fields of Christian theology, philosophy of religion, and biblical studies.

Crossley remarks on the historical naivety of one of the contributors of this volume (Gerald O’Collins) when he asks:

What are we to make of the moral probity of Mark in creating such a fictional narrative (and one that touches on an utterly central theme in the original Christian proclamation) and of the gullibility of the early Christians (including Matthew and Luke) in believing and repeating his fiction as if it were basically factual narrative?

Crossley comments on O’Collins’ question:

This is far too rooted in modern concepts of truth and ignores the well-known fact that people in the ancient world created fictional stories of past events, including ones that are utterly central for their beliefs: for example, Joseph and Aseneth on table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles or b. B. Mesi’a 59b on rejecting the legal authority of the wonder-working and divine-voice-supported R.  Eliezar. These are serious issues for the Jews involved, but no historian thinks the stories really happened, no historian should criticize ancient authors of immorality simply on the general point of inventing historical scenarios. (p.25)

So near and yet so far. James Crossley himself fails to see how cocooned his own thinking is in the assumed historical grounding of the Gospel narratives. Gerald O’Collins is addressing a point that needs honest examination at far more than the ethical issue of supposed “ancient concepts of honesty”. But that’s for another post another time.

The N.T. Wright phenomenon


But could we assume that those Christians who argue in favor of the historical reality of the bodily resurrection would treat non-Christian religions with the same degree of openness to the evidence? . . . It should be clear that Christian stories can be treated differently because of Christian dominance, which allows the more literalistic advocates to make such claims.

He is thinking in particular of N. T. Wright as one of these “literalistic advocates”.

Would another disciplines in the humanities seriously consider as historically reliable something as spectacular as someone literally rising from the dead but also argue that it provided a catalyst for the rise of a major new movement?

But even James Crossley in his discussion of N. T. Wright apparently cannot speak bluntly as one might expect of any post-Enlightenment thinker, but must couch his discussion with phrases like:

The recent arguments of Wright on the resurrection require much more careful consideration than can be given here


irrespective of whether he is right or wrong

And in response to Stephen Barton’s warnings against the Enlightenment’s influence on thinking,

I am not saying they [Barton’s comments] are inherently wrong

But it probably too easy to be too harsh. Crossley has had to contend with very heated criticisms from his “more partisan” colleagues (pp. ix).

But back to Crossley’s point:

it is almost certainly the context of a Christian-dominated scholarly community that has allowed his views of the bodily resurrection to be published as a major book in the study of Christian origins and to gain praise from some of the most famous scholars in the field. Certain major reviews contain criticisms of Wright’s arguments but not the argument favoring the historical accuracy of the bodily resurrection . . . . One such example is a review by James Dunn . . :”But in the end what Christian heart could fail to rejoice at such a trenchant defence of Christianity’s central claim regarding Jesus?” (p.26)

Only half way there

Crossley seems to see only half the picture, however. He correctly writes that Christian dominance of the “discipline” of NT studies

allows Christian academics to make arguments that (rightly or wrongly (sic)) would hardly be permitted in other academic disciplines, not to mention some extremely weak arguments. The lack of a significant number of non-Christian or even scholars deliberately attempting to see beyond their Christian background has prevented serious secular alternatives to Christian origins being properly discussed.

Crossley laments the loss of Marxist historical perspectives in Christian studies at a time, especially prior to the 1970s, when Marxist historians were making very respectable contributions to other historical disciplines. He welcomes the changes wrought through feminist studies, and expresses a hope for a future intake of larger numbers “from the working and lower classes” into scholarship.

But in all of this, he appears to remains oblivious to the insubstantial evidence for the cultural icon of the central Christian narrative that he studies. He refers to historians like Eric Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson, but when one reads his own “sociohistorical” account of Christian origins, the difference of his work with theirs is scarcely describable. (And it’s not simply the obvious quantitative difference over the amount of available evidence, either.) He relies on late rabbinic sources to reconstruct practices in the early first century, apparently forgetting his own remarks (above) about the well-known practice of ancients creating fictional ‘Sitz im Lebem’ narratives, and apparently overlooking the basics introduced by von Ranke on how to assess sources for the establishment of factual evidence, and naively accepts the Gospel narrative parables of Jesus as evidence of socioeconomic realities in early first century Galilee. But the difference is that he ties these sayings to socioeconomic models of sociologists like John Kautsky. This is the same special pleading substitutes for evidence as found among scholars with a faith interest. I do not dismiss Kautsky’s models, but I do wonder about the translucence of whatever is supposed to be created when one ties the model with a gospel saying or few, and some basic raw archaeological data about new cities being built in Galilee.

It is time, rather, for even “independent” historians to have the courage to examine critically and honestly the real foundations of the our inherited icon that has been aged in millennia. Crossley has appeared to come close to what is needed at times. But even he cannot recognize the foundational methodological and logical flaws bequeathed by an academy originally created to serve the faith. What is needed is a fresh look at the sorts of questions our available evidence will allow us to ask. Crossley can see the hollowness of much “partisan” scholarship. Until he examines the reasons for his assumption of the Gospel narrative as the bedrock of historical foundations, his own arguments will likewise remain bereft of solid evidence and sound methodological foundations.

Half way there! - Day 183 of Project 365

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  • 2010-03-18 02:48:17 UTC - 02:48 | Permalink

    I see you’ve possibly only read the first few pages but I can’t believe how badly you misrepresent James here. For example he doesn’t “rely on late rabbinic sources to reconstruct practices in the early first century”. He uses rabbinic sources with discretion, alongside DSS material and other early Jewish literature. We should do this because so much earlier evidence has disappeared owing to the destruction of Jerusalem and such like catastrophes. Neither does he hold any historical ‘assumption’ – misuse of ‘assumption’ again. His methodology, which you neglect to engage with, is solid and relies on a competency with biblical languages, and an extensive understanding of contemporary literature and Jewish law.

    I suggest James is actually fully aware of the state of scholarship and the fact we can’t have a complete explanation of how Christianity originated without social scientific models. Whether or not these are the right ones is open to further debate.

    And ‘sic’? There is nothing incorrect about ‘rightly or wrongly’. The ‘sic’ strikes me as slightly pretentious.

  • 2010-03-18 07:31:07 UTC - 07:31 | Permalink

    Nothing wrong with social scientific models. They are vital. But with what specific “Christian” evidence are they associated? There seems to me to be the same naive association between external evidence and the literary narrative that was the hallmark of Albright with the Old Testament. (I know, it must sound surreal associating Crossley with Albright, but that’s where current “biblical scholarly” assumptions take us!)

    Your “independent” scholars approach Christian origins with the same assumptions of historicity at the base of the Gospel narrative as do the “partisans”. They do not engage with a radical re-think of the approach to the “evidence” itself (as did “the minimalists”), but are merely applying a more “secular” model to the same questions and “evidence”. That’s a start, but it does not go nearly far enough. They fail to acknowledge — and you also fail to acknowledge — the flawed assumptions implicit in this approach. I have discussed this in some depth in previous posts, and I will be demonstrating this again in a coming post in relation to the work of Crossley et al.

    As I’ve said before, I hate to disagree with Crossley since there’s so much I like about his writings. But in this area he is as much a part and parcel of the fundamentals of the inherited cultural icon as are any other New Testament scholar, as Thomas L. Thompson would also appear to recognize.

    My “sic” is expressing disappointment that Crossley has to feel it necessary to even concede the theoretical possibility that Wright and his arguments about the resurrection and such things might be “right” — these qualifiers are a reflection on the state of the scholarly environment in which Crossley must function. Of course there is the theoretical possibility, but would you expect to see the same qualifiers in a work by Dawkins referencing “right or wrong” about the Creationists?

    (On another Christian academic’s apparent mis-use of Kautsky see http://freeratio.org/showthread.php?p=6305027#post6305027 and its related link to Seminar on Materials and Methods in Historical Jesus Research.)

  • 2010-03-18 08:31:22 UTC - 08:31 | Permalink

    How much have you read of Crossley? And how much have you read of Casey whom you criticise on what seems the basis of six pages and critical (biased) reviews? As you misrepresent Casey (and I’ve avoided commenting on this further – it’s kind of pointless seeing you don’t engage with or seem aware of his methodology or the fact that he only reconstructed material that had strong indications of Aramaic in those two earlier monographs), I think you misunderstand Crossley.

  • 2010-03-18 08:45:28 UTC - 08:45 | Permalink

    Steph, I think in your obvious enthusiasm to defend persons you are the one taking my comments out of context. I referred you to remarks by other scholars who were critical of the basics of Casey’s work and fully granted Casey may well have responded to them, and I made clear I am willing to see Casey’s defence. You also failed to respond repeatedly when asked for evidence for specific claims. This is the same approach I have come to expect from “partisan” NT scholars such as James McGrath who, as I pointed out, is a classic demonstration of Crossley’s point about what is wrong with much of NT scholarship.

    You have said before I have quoted Crossley out of context and I am still waiting for evidence that I have done so. I have read Crossley’s Date of Mark and Why Christianity, and am aware of his methods. But it is his assumptions I question, and yes, will discuss his methods too, as I have done with the “partisans” such as Sanders (is he a partisan? Crossley has nice things to say about him), Funk and McGrath and many others here.

  • 2010-03-18 09:08:48 UTC - 09:08 | Permalink

    You identified two scholars but neglected to give references to each of your little criticisms as to who said what. Maybe they were all from Nina Collins who is as biased a Jewish student of Hyam Maccoby as you can get. She even told Maurice that his work was ‘anti Jewish’! And Chilton received a slamming review from Maurice for his own imaganative book on Jesus the rabbi. I don’t see Maurice reading your blog or feeling the need to ‘defend himself’ and you haven’t read his work. He critiques Chilton heavily in his forthcoming book. I certainly haven’t got time to go and look up the reviews and as journals don’t normally have an automatic right to response, responses to particular things in a review can often be scattered in different publications. As to Crossley and evidence of quoting out of context, perhaps you could read the context. And for a summary of Casey’s methodological approach, it’s clearly laid out in about 3 pages of chapter 2 of Aramaic Approach to Q, an updated version of the approach in his monograph on Mark where the method is also laid out in Chapter 2. His forthcoming book has a more developed method which is also laid out clearly in chapter three.

  • 2010-03-18 09:21:45 UTC - 09:21 | Permalink

    My comments (with the quotes and citations) to which Stephanie refers can be found here.

    Stephanie — to find the reviews you can simply access JSTOR which I am sure your university library subscribes to.

    But ad hominems and poisoning the well are not arguments.

  • 2010-03-18 09:34:04 UTC - 09:34 | Permalink

    I don’t see the need to.

  • 2010-03-18 14:25:21 UTC - 14:25 | Permalink

    Putting aside that statistics on religious consensus are completely made up, since there is currently no statistics kept on all the questions that people throw around consensus claims on for a moment…

    In most real life situations, people with a vested interested in something generally recuse themselves from voting on or judging an issues, I would like to see statistics on biblical issues with a universe of all Christians removed.

    Meaning… on the judgment of any issue regarding NT history, the universe should NOT include any Christians since they obviously have a vested interest, ie their faith, that bears on any view they have with regards to Christian history issues.

    response link

  • 2010-03-18 09:40:45 UTC - 09:40 | Permalink

    As for Casey’s methods, much of his discussion can be found on Google books here.

    This allows you to read pages 73 to 102, excluding 8 pages (77/8, 84/5, 91/2, 98/9), and the final 8 pages of the chapter (pp. 103-110). (Steph, are the 3 pages to which you refer included?)

    What I looked for in this discussion on methodology, and failed to find, is:

    (1) evidence that Mark’s “clumsy Greek” can be systematically explained by Aramaic syntax; and

    (2) what external controls there are to enable us to conclude that a presumed Aramaic source’s narrative in any way is derivative from historical events.

  • 2010-03-18 12:02:15 UTC - 12:02 | Permalink

    Another great post Neil. McGrath is representative of the biggest flaw in Christian Bible scholarship. Being officially neutral on the Impossible. This is the only area of the Christian bible that we can be absolutely certain about. If someone does not accept that the impossible is impossible, than they are not a Bible scholar. They are just a theologian masquerading as one. Fortunately Ehrman is at least promoting ECREE. That someone like McGrath tries to make fun of MJ is comical because unlike McGrath, MJ at least knows that most of the Christian Bible is fiction. This knowledge is the most important evidence in evaluating historicity of possible claims of the Christian Bible. The high level of the Impossible in general creates a low likelihood of any individual possible claim and the extent of the impossible in a story is directly related to the likelihood that the possible claims in the story are fiction. This would all be true in every discipline outside religion. The “criteria” McGrath claims to evaluate historicity, embarrassment, dissimilarity and repetition, is dung in comparison.

    A great example of the double standard of Christian Bible scholarship is that McGrath argues that the original ending of “Mark” was lost. He does this with no:

    1) Patristic evidence.

    2) Manuscript evidence.

    3) Scribal evidence.

    4) Authority evidence.

    5) Internal evidence.

    For Christ’s sake, would someone please explain to me why this position, with no evidence, is not made fun of and MJ is?


    • 2010-03-18 12:23:12 UTC - 12:23 | Permalink

      I suggested in another comment recently that we needed you to do another project — a list of all the HJ arguments based on silence.

  • 2010-03-18 21:05:19 UTC - 21:05 | Permalink

    Neil: This ‘Aramaic Sources of Mark’ was the first monograph to propose methodology for reconstructing whole pericopes where there are good reasons to believe that Mark was translating Aramaic sources (this is why he chose the passages he did). Consequently the section on methodology is about how to do this, not about how to prove that the results are historically accurate. It has not been claimed that the whole of Mark is a translation from Aramaic. Neither has it been suggested that Mark’s ‘clumsy Greek’ is entirely to be explained by Aramaic translation. The arguments that some features are due to the translation of Aramaic sources are therefore exemplified and require further work on other passages. Arguments for the historicity of the chosen passages are given in the detailed discussion of them. These arguments of cumulative weight were not deliberately written to confront the mythicist position which is confronted in the next book. There are two major kinds of argument for the historicity of passages. One is their Sitz im Leben and the other is that these are not the sort of things the church would make up. For the Sitz im Leben in first century Judaism, the sources used are conventional and outlined in the next book – such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha and Pseudopigrapha. The complete argument requires a complete going through of all the relevant passages. Contrast his book Is ‘John’s Gospel True’ 1996 which argues that this contains no significant historically accurate material (other than that in the Synoptics) and is violently anti Jewish and has a Sitz im Leben in a later period of the church.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-18 21:35:21 UTC - 21:35 | Permalink

    ‘Consequently the section on methodology is about how to do this, not about how to prove that the results are historically accurate.’

    So there is no methodology other than
    1) Casey cannot imagine why ‘Mark’ would make something up
    2) Casey can translate some Greek into Aramaic, and sometimes know what this imagainary Aramaic document said better than the person who had a real copy in front of him.

    I’ve looked at ‘Aramaic Sources’ and it is a work of fantasy.

  • 2010-03-18 21:50:04 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

    You see why I find replying pointless Neil? Where is their argument and where is their evidence? And where is their expertise on biblical languages and other ancient languages or the material in external Jewish literature. And Carr and his one sentence refutations…

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-18 21:50:19 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

    As Casey is not infallible, perhaps Steph can tell us if any page of ‘Aramaic Sources’ contains a paragraph whose conclusions are questionable?

    Or is it all entirely perfect?

  • 2010-03-18 22:02:18 UTC - 22:02 | Permalink

    His arguments have a great deal more plausibility that a mythcist alternative which cannot explain the features he explains. Perhaps you should engage with the detailed arguments in his books (and especially the next book) instead of making extraordinarily naive and simplistic denials. Perhaps you can’t engage with the Aramaic or Greek texts which he has laid out in his books?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-18 22:05:40 UTC - 22:05 | Permalink

    So Steph still can’t produce a real argument for anything Casey says in his Aramaic sources book….

    Other than that Casey sometimes can’t imagine why Mark would make something up….

    One is their Sitz im Leben and the other is that these are not the sort of things the church would make up

    ‘Sitz im Leben’ means that Casey can imagine it happening, but cannot think of any evidence that it did.

    Otherwise he would not need a ‘Sitz’ in the ‘Leben’ but would actually produce the evidence for it happening in the ‘Leben’ of Jesus.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-18 22:10:50 UTC - 22:10 | Permalink

    His arguments have a great deal more plausibility that a mythcist alternative which cannot explain the features he explains. Perhaps you should engage with the detailed arguments in his books..

    So Steph still cannot tell us what these ‘detailed arguments’ are.

    But I can.

    Casey can translate some things from Greek into Aramaic, sometimes correcting what Mark ‘misread’.

    And because Casey can translate some things from Greek into Aramaic, Jesus must have said them.

    Jesus must have said ‘Abba’, because it is in Mark’s Gospel in Aramaic.

    This is the ‘logic’ of page 83 of ‘Aramaic Sources’

    It is in Aramaic and Casey can’t think why Mark would have made it up, so it must have happened.

    Steph will tell me that this is not Casey’s argument, but will never say what Casey’s real argument on page 83 is.

  • 2010-03-18 22:11:10 UTC - 22:11 | Permalink

    And Stevie can’t read Aramaic or engage with the detailed arguments in the book he is complaining about.

    • 2010-03-19 04:49:47 UTC - 04:49 | Permalink


      I have noticed the exchanges between yourself and Steven Carr. I do know that Steven is a anonymous poster that does not seem to have a site associated with him. I notice that you link back to a aggregated site. Are you a writer for that site? are these your specific posts? http://dunedinschool.wordpress.com/author/steff777/

      I am trying to get a URL for your writings. I only occasionally skim the comments of blogs. I tend to add people’s actual blog URLs to my Google reader, and then read their primary writings.

      What is your URL?

      response link

      • Evan
        2010-03-19 05:26:09 UTC - 05:26 | Permalink

        Actually, I believe Steven Carr does have a blog which is updated irregularly.


      • 2010-03-19 05:33:18 UTC - 05:33 | Permalink

        Evan, thanks for the info. It’s interesting to get a sense for folks. I had noticed that steven carr’s nick on all these comments does not link to a blog. But thanks for his url. I notice he does a lot of commenting yet his blog was last updated in January.

        I notice that you also have a non-linked nick, do you also have a blog/site? As I was saying, I find my approach is mostly to think of the googlelyweb as people, so I try to collect people’s blogs to read their most complete writing.

        direct response link

      • Evan
        2010-03-19 05:49:10 UTC - 05:49 | Permalink

        Rich, I used to blog at Debunking Christianity when it was a group blog. I haven’t made my own blog but you can look up some of my old posts there (same name). I keep trying to limit my commenting even — getting a little carpal tunnel, but I feel like Michael Corleone in GFIII.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-18 22:12:13 UTC - 22:12 | Permalink

    I told you Steph would not tell us Casey’s argument.

    Apparently, Jeuss said something because Steven Carr can’t read Aramaic.

  • 2010-03-18 22:16:07 UTC - 22:16 | Permalink

    Do you not understand or do you intentionally twist things?

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-03-18 23:57:03 UTC - 23:57 | Permalink


    What about the parables? Do you think any of them go back to Aramaic sources? Didn’t Jeremias see some Aramaic behind the parables?

  • 2010-03-19 00:40:51 UTC - 00:40 | Permalink

    As I told you, Mark 12.1-12.

  • 2010-03-18 21:20:31 UTC - 21:20 | Permalink

    “Neil: This ‘Aramaic Sources of Mark’ was the first monograph to propose methodology for reconstructing whole pericopes where there are good reasons to believe that Mark was translating Aramaic sources (this is why he chose the passages he did). Consequently the section on methodology is about how to do this, not about how to prove that the results are historically accurate. It has not been claimed that the whole of Mark is a translation from Aramaic. Neither has it been suggested that Mark’s ‘clumsy Greek’ is entirely to be explained by Aramaic translation. The arguments that some features are due to the translation of Aramaic sources are therefore exemplified and require further work on other passages. Arguments for the historicity of the chosen passages are given in the detailed discussion of them.”

    Oy, it never ends. I’ve already pointed out at FRDB that all of “Mark’s” uses of Aramaic refer to the supposed resurrection and some copy Paul’s use of Aramaic (“Abba”). This is a literary technique and strong support for MJ (fiction), not HJ. All the Latinisms suggest the author knew Latin and not Aramaic.

    People keep claiming “Mark” used clumsy Greek but can never demonstrate it with the details. The main argument is “Mark’s” consistent use of the historical present and connected actions. Again, this is all style, more evidence for MJ.


  • Bill Warrant
    2010-03-19 07:09:58 UTC - 07:09 | Permalink

    Just one of the parables? Okay. Do you take Thomas’ version into consideration?

  • 2010-03-19 07:23:38 UTC - 07:23 | Permalink

    I think Thomas was a late gnostic gospel and agree alot with April de Conick on the rolling tradition. There is no Aramaic translation evident in Thomas. And yes, a few. Others I think more likely derive from oral tradition. Maybe I’ll chat with you at a conference sometime Bill but not here thanks.

  • 2010-03-19 08:07:50 UTC - 08:07 | Permalink

    Steph, you wrote:

    Arguments for the historicity of the chosen passages are given in the detailed discussion of them. These arguments of cumulative weight were not deliberately written to confront the mythicist position which is confronted in the next book. There are two major kinds of argument for the historicity of passages. One is their Sitz im Leben and the other is that these are not the sort of things the church would make up.

    Here you are repeating the point I am attempting to address. Your “independent” scholars like Casey and Crossley follow the same methodology and assumptions as “partisan” scholars.

    One can analyse a text till the cows come home, building up cumulative point upon cumulative point, at it means not a thing for historicity of the content. This is method discussed by mainstream scholar James McGrath in his “Burial of Jesus” and which he attempted to justify as “standard historical methodology”, pointing to the work of a scholar like E. P. Sanders as a classic illustration of how it works. I think even he finally conceded my point to some extent when I demonstrated that this is not a method for detecting a historical core, but is a method that assumes it a priori. To claim it is evidence of historicity itself is circular.

    As for Sitz im Leben, how is this logically any evidence for the historicity of the narrative itself? It is comparable to arguing: Pilate was real, Jerusalem was real, therefore Jesus was real. How often is fiction — including ancient fiction — placed in unrecognizable or implausible settings? All it can tell us is when a narrative detail was set, what its author knew about the setting or the time of its source. It does not follow that the narrative it is used to support is historical.

    And the logic of claim that “the church would not have made up” something is as fallacious as when used to prove God, creationism or the paranormal. It is simply an assertion that we lack imagination to contemplate any other reason from our assumption. It is nothing other than the fallacy of the argument from incredulity.

    Contrast the methods addressed by Eric Hobsbawm in my post next to the one here: Independent evidence — external controls — are needed to establish the historicity of any oral or written narrative (or even eye-witness reports). This is exactly what has been understood by Schweitzer, Schwartz, Davies, Lemche and Thompson. Yet Jesus historians seem to claim some sort of exceptionalism to basic logic and the reasonable practices used by nonbiblical historians.

  • 2010-03-19 08:37:48 UTC - 08:37 | Permalink

    Interesting you keep bringing up Philip Davies who is definitely not a Jesus mythicist. He is interested in collective memory and the development of the Jesus story but he stresses this is not about the historical Jesus not existing or anything. Only some material can claim arguments for historicity and while this can be used to reconstruct a plausible model while the mythicist, who assumes a smooth narrative founded on a myth, cannot or does not confront the compexities in that narrative, and does not explain why parts of that narrative were made up.

  • 2010-03-19 10:30:49 UTC - 10:30 | Permalink

    I also keep bringing up Albert Schweitzer “because” he was not a mythicist. That is my point. I am addressing methodology per se.

    I don’t follow what you are saying about what “the mythicist” assumes. Arguments that suggest the possibility there was never a historical Jesus (e.g those of Price) address head on and in detail why parts of the narrative were “made up”.

    Complexities of a narrative are what I address on this blog regularly. (Most recently, for example, my recent post on how Matthew and Luke tame the unruly followers of Jesus. Again in depth on my discussion of the Temple Action of Jesus being almost certainly not historical.)

    But I analyze the complexities and offer explanations within the context of hard concrete evidence that we also know was at hand to the authors of those gospels. “Jesus” historians are seeking explanations entirely in assumptions and theoretical models. They have no evidence to link to the Gospel narratives — only assumptions and models.

    I do not speak for “mythicists” or “mythicism” by the way, because I think there is some significant confusion about what is meant by those terms.

    I am attempting to apply normal historical methodologies to the evidence we have for the origins of Christianity. When I discussed these with Associate Professor James McGrath who describes himself as a historian he appeared lost and ended up asking online what nonbiblical historians do. He said he would discuss methods with his historian colleagues in nonbiblical departments and came back saying one of them called history “an art”. His responses indicated to me that biblical historians have no idea about normal historical methodologies or how to evaluate evidence. They live in their own world of biblical exceptionalism. And Casey and Crossley are, unfortunately, making the same assumptions that enfold them in the same world of biblical exceptionalism.

    You can’t change the rules and logic that requires external controls to establish historicity just because there are none for a particular narrative.

    Try applying Hobsbawm’s basic truism regarding establishing the historicity to a narrative and biblical scholars will find they have no historical Jesus to study at all.

    And yep, that means we can only study a literary one, as per Davies et al. But it also opens the way to examining Christian origins through methods that are recognized across other historical disciplines, and that are justifiable and grounded in more than mere assumption.

  • 2010-03-19 10:35:00 UTC - 10:35 | Permalink

    no he doesn’t – not the passages for example reconstructed by Casey addressing the complexities there demonstrated by Casey. Not reading rest of comment sorry, it’s not far from dawn, dead tired, been reading a fascinating doctoral thesis on Marcion and patristics, and I’m going to bed and leaving this blog. Too much work to do.

    • 2010-03-19 10:40:17 UTC - 10:40 | Permalink

      Marcion and the patristics is my favourite subject. What is the doctoral thesis?

  • 2010-03-19 10:51:39 UTC - 10:51 | Permalink

    I expect to be discussing this in some depth in a future post, but just to clarify here (because assumptions are so often invisible targets) —

    Yes Crossley addresses archaeological and other secondary evidence for the socioeconomic situation in Galilee and Judea. But he is assuming all the while that there is a historical Jesus who is in the middle and experiencing all this. He can’t see this Jesus, so he must consider whether he was a prophet, a peasant, an artisan, or whatever. He is attempting to find an explanation that coheres with his socioeconomic and other models, and with other evidence of the place and times, and with a broad mass of sayings about rich and poor and the law in the Gospels. There is no evidence or reason to assume that those Gospels are drawing on any historical figure at all. That is all assumption.

    This is exactly what Hobsbawm and Slatta and “the minimalists” (and even Schweitzer) warned against in other contexts.

  • 2010-03-19 19:07:54 UTC - 19:07 | Permalink

    Price and co assume the fictional nature and apply myth models to entire narrative without discerning differences within with highly implausible scenarios of Mark fragmenting the baptism for example incoherently. They cannot explain why certain parts would have been made up in their determination to rubbish Christianity. They are no more convincing than Christian apologists. Neither James nor Maurice read your blog so will not respond and I think it is unfruitful for me to read any more posts.

    The thesis is Joe Hoffmann.

    • 2010-03-19 19:12:05 UTC - 19:12 | Permalink

      Hey Steph,

      What is your blog URL?

      direct response link

    • 2010-03-19 19:57:36 UTC - 19:57 | Permalink

      Steph, I would like to encourage you to actually address the real assumptions and methodologies of Price and Thompson some time. But more importantly, consider the assumptions of Casey and Crossley in the light of wider (nonbiblical) historical methodologies and evaluation methods of primary and secondary evidence.

      But hey, just when I was getting down into the detail of Crossley’s methodology (as you were asking me to do) you decide to walk away? Given also in this context your statement that you won’t bother with critical reviews of scholars you defend, do you only engage with those who see things your way? Someone else walked away recently when I took up his challenge to address E.P. Sanders in a series of posts. Okay to discuss and rebuke so long as the spotlight is not on their own flawed methodologies and assumptions, it seems. C’est la vie. 🙁

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-19 20:43:01 UTC - 20:43 | Permalink

    So Steph can’t show that the Novels are not novels, except by claiming that they contain things nobody would make up.

    No wonder she ran away.

  • 2010-03-19 21:02:43 UTC - 21:02 | Permalink

    Twist things like Carr! I never said ‘walk away’ – I said they don’t read your blogs so won’t therefore interact with you. I do address assumptions of Price, Thompson and Doherty (whose bigger book I am reading) in my thesis but blogs I try to avoid. Maurice responds to them in his forthcoming book and will be writing further on the mythicists. Ironically I started my study in religion as not really believing in a historical figure. I had never believed in any religion growing up in a secular environment. I was aware of many different religions and they have always fascinated me. The way people live their lives. But I didn’t have much hope for a historical Jesus and assumed he was probably created by the first Christians before I went back to university to study religions. My research led me to more confidence in a figure (despite a first professor who was a fellow of the Jesus Seminar) which surprised me and I have gradually learned more along the way as I look into languages and other historical literature. Now with more detailed research I fail to see why anyone would make it up. I’ll never become a Christian though!

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-19 21:35:52 UTC - 21:35 | Permalink

    Stephanie is still unable to come up with a single argument in any of her posts.

    Perhaps if she just produced some evidence that the characters in the Novels existed – people like Judas, Thomas, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Simon of Cyrene, Nicodemus, Lazarus , Barabbas, Bartimaeus, Jairus etc etc.

    And , to illustrate her objectivity, I asked her to name one paragraph in ‘Aramaic Sources’ which might be questionable.

    She was unable to do so. Apparently, Maurice Casey writes infallible books where not a single argument is thought by Stephanie to be questionable.

    • 2010-03-20 02:07:25 UTC - 02:07 | Permalink

      Ridiculous stevie. Nobody is infallible. I have had many discussions with Casey and I have been through every draft meticulously of the forthcoming book. Consequently, I have no major disagreements with its content and any issues I have over previous monographs I have discussed directly with the author. I have cited him here when I agree with him.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-03-19 21:42:13 UTC - 21:42 | Permalink

    Now with more detailed research I fail to see why anyone would make it up.

    Christians made up a lot of things. That is their job.

    Christians made up claims that their Jesus killed a playmate.

    By the criterion of embarrassment, that must be true.

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