Monthly Archives: April 2010

What King Arthur might teach us about Jesus and Christian Origins

King Arthur as one of the Nine Worthies, detai...

Image via Wikipedia

There is nothing unfeasible about the idea of a rich body of literature that reads as if it were real history, filled with details of names and places, yet being entirely fictitious, appearing suddenly and “out of whole cloth” from the mind of a single author. This is how the Arthurian literature was created in the twelfth century. It was very likely created for the purpose of establishing a national identity and assisting the Norman conquerors of England establishing a continuity with their subjects.

The Primary History of Israel contains a detailed history of Kings David and Solomon that archaeology has demonstrated is entirely fanciful. This contains many names and places and administrative lists (though not so rich as those found in the Arthurian literature) that give the story verisimilitude. This story, too, was quite arguably created for the purpose of establishing a new “national” identity and sense of continuity for newly arrived inhabitants in the land of Canaan at the behest of yet another Persian imperial mass deportation. (It was the dismal custom of Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians to repopulate imperial lands via mass deportations for a variety of reasons — economic, strategic, punitive — while promising “liberty” and “restoration” to those they were relocating. Part of the package could include happy servitude to the “original gods of the land”.)

I sometimes wonder if the meagre evidence we have for the emergence of the Gospels is best explained by a similar process, maybe late first century but quite likely early to mid second century. Not that they are the products of a new nation or occupation, of course. But thousands of Jews were displaced, and a central focus of religious and cultural identity was shattered — twice, 70 and 135 ce. It might be interesting to explore the relationships between such presumably traumatic events and their cultural and ideological impacts. Such a possibility is suggested by the several metaphors in the Gospel narratives of a destroyed temple (e.g. the rock-carved tomb of Jesus deriving from Isaiah 22:16’s depiction of an earlier destroyed Temple being a rock-carved tomb) and a “new Israel” (e.g. the twelve disciples echoing the twelve tribes of Israel). They are documents that do potentially offer a new identity for a displaced people. They reassure those who leave their families and homes — even their former racial and cultural group still adhering to a revised Mosaic set of regulations — that they have a new place in the successor of Moses and Elijah. Their story of Jesus as the cast-out, the rejected, the persecuted, yet the one who would in the end conquer; their image of an alternative “new Israel” with which to identify; these surely would answer the needs of such peoples.

But could such gospel narratives arise seemingly from nowhere?

They certainly could. Compare the literature of King Arthur. (The following notes are for most part from a discussion by Hector Avalos in his The End of Biblical Studies.) read more »

Historical Jesus sham methodology link

Hi guys! A link to my recent post from my own hometown!

Gives me a twinge of homesick blues


Image by nr.7375 via Flickr

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Biblical historians make detectives look silly

Inspector Gadget
Image via Wikipedia

Biblical historians who “research” the historical Jesus and the foundations of Christianity in the Gospels have sometimes compared their “historical research” work with that of detectives or criminal investigators. Crime investigators are often targets of spoof, but this is going too far.

All detectives start with some known facts that are indisputable. A cadaver with a knife in its back, a diary of a missing heiress, invoices and tax records. They then seek to uncover more evidence from these established facts. Interviews are recorded and attempts are made to independently corroborate them, etc.

But if detectives work like historical Jesus scholars they would not work like this at all. They would read a few popular anonymous publications about a long-ago murder at a nearby uninhabited hill that locals believed to be haunted. They would dismiss most of the anecdotes about hauntings, but they would study the publications to try to determine who the murder victim was and what was the motive for his murder.

And this is how it would all pan out:

Identifying the victim read more »

How Crossan redefines history and sets up more false analogies

The purpose of this post is to add an illustrative footnote to my earlier post on the nature of history and historical facts by showing how a prominent historical Jesus scholar redefines the nature of history and historical facts to mean something quite different from anything understood by other historians of ancient, medieval or modern history. Many biblical historians do not practice history as it is known and understood by nonbiblical historians, but myth-making, as I explain below.

Most historians acknowledge that there are very real facts of the past for which we have tangible evidence, and there is no dispute about these facts. Different interpretations or views of these facts does not change the reality of the facts themselves:

No matter how many observers may concern themselves with such questions as the day on which Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, who the eldest surviving child of Henry VIII was, or where Napoleon confronted the allied armies on a given day in 1813, they will all come up with the same answer. There is, in short, a very large body of agreed historical knowledge on which no dispute is possible . . . . (Elton, The Practice of History, p. 54)

We may not know precisely why William the Conqueror decided to invade England; we do know that he did invade and had a reason for doing so. We may argue over his invasion and its motive; we cannot argue them away. Nine hundred years ago they had existence . . . . Thus while history will rarely be able to say: this is the truth and no other answer is possible; it will always be able to say: this once existed or took place, and there is therefore a truth to be discovered if only we can find it. (p.49)

So in history there are many hidden facts we do not know (e.g. why a particular war started) about the public and undebatable facts for which we do have primary and corroborated secondary evidence (e.g. the fact that there was a war or invasion). But there are publicly known facts for which we have primary evidence and corroborated secondary evidence.

Note that the very foundation of historical enquiry is a set of questions about the public, undebatable facts and events known (from primary and/or tested and corroborated evidence) and about which there can be no doubt or revision. Those facts — the fact of a war, of the settlement of a new country, a person for whom we have clear evidence of real existence (e.g. letters, diaries, contemporary reports) — are the starting point of the historian’s questions. The historian begins investigations — and the uncovering of new evidence, generally more debatable — with questions about such facts.

But see how John Dominic Crossan puts a subtle twist on the above truisms about history: read more »

Sisters and mothers of Jesus

An intriguing comment about women’s status in relation to ancient religions appears on Rene’s blog.

During a time when a woman’s role was limited within society, the priestesses were able to obtain some power and influence outside of the domestic realm.  It seems, therefore, that the question of celibacy might also be answered partially as one of control.  Delving into historical records (from Herodotus to the authors of the Bible) it should be noted that religions from Egyptian times through Christianity all allowed women a higher level of influence when viewed as a “bride of god.”

One often hears how early Christianity is said to have offered more respect and liberty, and this is supposedly demonstrated in the Gospels that depict Jesus’ inclusion of women among his followers. Many commentators who fail to recognize the common folkloric trope of the stereotypical unreliable witness for a major event have also pointed to the women witnesses of the empty tomb as further evidence of God’s special favour towards women.

The second century Acts of Paul and Thecla depict the other side of this enhanced liberty and communal power. Thecla achieves her status by obeying Christ’s (and Paul’s) commands to turn her back on her family and marriage and to live a celibate life, “given to God”. Thecla’s decision to remain a virgin wreaks a terrible suffering on all those who love her — and who had power over her — her parents, her betrothed, her community.

The only disciple of Jesus who had a wife, I think, was Peter. And she only makes a single anonymous “appearance” — remaining as invisible to readers as the husband of the Shunammite woman on whom she may well have been based. (I think it is Bob Price who has suggested that 2 Kings 4 may be the reversed model for the story of Christ’s healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, being the healing of the son of the disciple-woman and her husband. Maybe others have, too.)

Otherwise their sole virtue seems to be in excelling the men in their devotion to another man who is “not of this world”. The Gospel of Philip shocks many modern Christians because in it Jesus is said to often kiss Mary on the mouth. The most sensual scene in the Gospels is the woman sorrowfully washing Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears. Mary’s place of honour is beside the dying male. She is honoured to give comfort in his death, but not his life.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Why it would be a good thing to humanize Hitler

Adolf Hitler as a baby

Adolf Hitler as a baby

I have begun to ready my second Chris Hedges book, this one, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, and have even more deeply mixed feelings about it than I had for American Fascists. It was not what I expected. I had expected a more philosophical treatise about atheism per se, but it’s nothing like that. I agreed with just about every criticism he makes of Sam Harris, and with a number of his criticisms of Chris Hitchens. I was particularly pleased to see Hedges refer to Robert Pape’s research (Dying to Win) debunking the myth linking suicide terrorism with a particular race or religion. (Suicide bombers have included Christians, Buddhists, socialists as well as Muslims – and the reasons for it are despair in the face of tyranny/evil, not religion. See also Ghassan Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism.) Hedges casts his rhetorical net far too wide, however, in his interpretations of the writings of Daniel Dennett as some form of intolerant “new atheism”, and is certainly tendentiously selective in his treatment of the Enlightenment.

But I do find myself in strong sympathy with one of his themes in particular, on condition that I can change one key word. Hedges speaks of “sin”. I would substitute “evil”.

We have nothing to fear from those who do or do not believe in God; we have much to fear from those who do not believe in sin. (p.13) [let’s say, “who do not believe in evil”].

Evil seems a more universal reality, sin strikes me as a particular cultural and religious concept that itself has been responsible for much evil. I fully agree with Hedges that the human species is not advancing morally. What is advancing, with however many reversals, are some aspects of our social evolution through which we have learned to modify and control some of our more destructive natures.

But evil can only come of seeing evil in others and not in ourselves. Waging a war on “evil” (equating it with terrorism) is only perpetuating the bloody evil at the root of “terrorism” in the first place.

Zimbardo’s book, The Lucifer Effect, is worth a read to remind us, according to its subtitle, “how good people turn evil”. He shows how normal healthy everyday people can so quickly turn into the very image of psychopathic and sadistic monsters in their treatment of others.

I fear that thinking in terms of “sin” only opens the door of religious faith for certain people to think they can be completely absolved from sin, meaning they are free from the same propensity for evil that we all share. Born again Christians have been known to launch wars of aggression. And as per the Nuremberg principles, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

It’s been a mistake (understandable, of course, but still a mistake) since the Second World War for media and leaders to regularly sign up to any opportunity to demonize Hitler and the Nazis. (And any other monsters you might prefer to think of.) There was outrage with the film Downfall a few years ago because it showed the human side of Hitler. He was shown as a man with normal human compassion, sensitivities, loves, feelings, like the rest of us.

This is a mistake because it enables us to deny the facts of our common humanity. Hitler really was one of us. We are all the same basic nature. Sure, some of us wish others had some curative lobotomies or brain-cell laser treatment to make annoying and malicious people “more like us”, or just more “normal”. Yet of course all such variations of propensities and predispositions is part of the collective human experience. It’s hard to recognize the range of our real natures when ensconced in modern state-controlled environments, with the benefits of enlightened education and relative prosperity. We are a bit like our pet dogs that seem to have been part and parcel of our evolution. Domesticated, they know how to behave. They are nonetheless by nature wolf-pack animals, and we know what our pet topsies can become when they escape outdoors to join a pack of their own kind.

What fascinated and disturbed me when I saw the film of Eichmann’s trial was the undeniable fact that I was watching a man who was like me and my colleagues. The banality of evil, etc. What is the difference between those who snuff out thousands of civilians with an atomic bomb (to save the lives of their soldiers) and the Nazi officer who shoots half a dozen villagers (to save the lives of his soldiers)? I suggest it is only personal circumstances and conditioning experiences. Is this also enough to explain those who oppose the evil of both?

Recognizing the dark side of  our common humanity — this is the horror that hits home when we understand Hitler. Demonizing him is a denial of our real natures.

One word, I suspect, in Chris Hedges’ book prompted me to write this now. He spoke of the Weimarization of the United States. The alienation and disillusionment of the public in relation to the political processes. Coincidence, of course, but I recently linked to an interview by Chris Hedges with Noam Chomsky who spoke of the same thing. A warning.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Does Crossan think McGrath is an unethical historian?

The Unexplained Book Release Poster

Image by Gregory Branson-Trent via Flickr

James McGrath, biblical scholar, historian and Christian, has written that historical studies of Jesus cannot explain what happened that gave rise among early Christians to the belief in the resurrection. Whatever they experienced — and clearly he believes the evidence confirms that they certainly experienced something unusual — is beyond the ability of history to explain. The reason is, simply, that history deals with “the ordinary” (to use McGrath’s words), and the resurrection is not an ordinary event.

Result: Historians must simply not touch this topic of the resurrection. They cannot. It is left to be a mystery. One of the unexplained or unanswered questions historians so often have to face. McGrath in blog comments has literally insisted that this “inexplicable” is no different from a host of other questions historians in any field cannot answer! I suggest that historians in other fields do not construct models that can only be explained by a miracle.

One might say that his is a bit like wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too. One tries to sound like a “man of the world” for whatever reasons, and to prove to others that one is a “man of the world”, but at the same time one secretly believes that one is really a part of another world.

But John Dominic Crossan has written that this approach (and McGrath is representative in this of very many of his peers, I am sure) is unethical. Before citing Crossan, here are McGrath’s words from The Burial of Jesus: History and Faith read more »

Another instance of dishonest handling of evidence in Historical Jesus studies?

The Annunciation by El Greco

Image via Wikipedia

It is commonly said that the miraculous events in the Gospels concerning Jesus do not diminish the historicity of Jesus or his story because ancient historians and biographers also regularly narrated tales of the miraculous in connection with famous people we know for a fact to have been historical.

This is a misleading claim. The way in which the miraculous tales were told of people we know to have been real is generally very different from the way similar myths are narrated in the Gospels. I give one example here.

One of the first books I read when beginning my quest to understand Christian origins was The Birth of Christianity by John Dominic Crossan. In that book Crossan compares pagan biographies of emperors (Augustus, Tiberius) with the Gospels as sources of historical information. The assumption is that the Gospels themselves are entitled to be read in a way comparable to how nonbiblical historians read ancient documentary evidence of other famous persons.

Crossan compares the miraculous birth of Augustus “recorded” by an ancient historian to that of Jesus in the Gospels. The point is to demonstrate that such a clearly mythical tale told about the origins of an emperor is something we can expect in ancient biographies of real people.

Suppressing the facts to make a false comparison

But in order to present this comparison Crossan has to suppress information from the consciousness of the reader. If a less educated reader who has not read the works of this ancient historian (and Crossan has many lay readers who fall into this category and is clearly conscious of them when he writes) that reader would be left with the false impression that the ancient historical biography is indeed comparable to the Gospels when they tell of Jesus’ birth.

Here is how Crossan identifies a miraculous tale in the Gospel of Luke with with a similar miracle found in an ancient historical writing of a known historical figure (my emphasis): read more »

Scot McKnight’s lament and the fallacy of the HJ historical method

I addressed Scot McKnight’s chapter on historiography in Jesus and His Death in order to respond to the central fallacy in his article in Christianity Today, The Jesus We’ll Never Know. McKnight is only half-correct when he claims that scholars have used normative historical methods to discover the historical Jesus (HJ). It is the missing half that is at the heart of the failure of the historical Jesus quest. In Jesus and His Death McKnight commented on the general lack of awareness among HJ scholars of historiography, but unfortunately McKnight himself misses a central point of the same historians he discusses, and the reason is not hard to find.

McKnight writes in the CT article:

First, the historical Jesus is the Jesus whom scholars reconstruct on the basis of historical methods. Scholars differ, so reconstructions differ. Furthermore, the methods that scholars use differ, so the reconstructions differ all the more. But this must be said: Most historical Jesus scholars assume that the Gospels are historically unreliable; thus, as a matter of discipline, they assess the Gospels to see if the evidence is sound. They do this by using methods common to all historical work but that are uniquely shaped by historical Jesus studies. . . .

[C]riteria were developed, criticized, dropped, and modified, but all have this in common: Historical Jesus scholars reconstruct what Jesus was like by using historical methods to determine what in the Gospels can be trusted.

I have emphasized McKnight’s key concern with historical methods. The methods used are “criteria” of various sorts to make judgments about the likelihood of any particular detail in the Gospels being historically true or not. (McKnight discusses “criteriology” in Jesus and His Death and is just as critical of its ability to yield objective results there.)

I attempted to address the details from McKnight’s discussion of historiography and the writings of other historians such as G.R. Elton in my previous post. That was meant as a detailed justification for my following observation here —

The fallacy of the HJ historical method

1. The agreed basic facts

History is first of all about facts that are public and known to have happened. The Second World War really happened. We do not need criteria to know that. We have public and primary evidence for it. It is not a fact that any sceptic can dispute. It is an existential fact whose existence by definition cannot be denied or overturned. (It is the same for the Holocaust, I add, since some have suggested my views on history would lead me to deny the Holocaust, too.) This is what all modernist historians agree on. Even postmodernists agree that the facts and events that we have labelled the Second World War really did occur.

2. Where the differences begin

read more »

Historical Facts and the very UNfactual Jesus: contrasting nonbiblical history with ‘historical Jesus’ studies

Historical Jesus (HJ) scholars have boasted that they use the same sorts of methods as scholarly historians of other (nonbiblical) subjects, but this is a misleading claim. When it comes to the basics of the nature of “facts” and “evidence” this claim is simply not true. Historical Jesus scholars use a completely different standard to establish their basic facts from anything used by nonbiblical historians, as I will demonstrate here by comparing discussions of historical facts by both an HJ and a nonbiblical historian.

Scot McKnight (in a discussion of historiography relating to historical Jesus studies, chapter 1 of Jesus and His Death) notes the importance of a “fact” for HJ scholars:

[F]or our purposes, what kind of history is the historical Jesus scholar doing? First, history begins with “facts” that survive from the past as evidence. (p.20)

So far, so good. McKnight explains that even though it is the values and biases of the historians that guide their choices and interpretations of facts, the facts themselves have a real existence quite apart and distinct from the historian himself.

Cookery and Exegesis

But then McKnight gets murky and ambiguous in his explanation and covers up the multitude of sins of the bulk of historical Jesus scholars. At one level it sounds like he is saying nothing different from how nonbiblical historians work, but he is meaning something quite different behind the same words:

[Facts] genuinely exist even if they have to be sorted out through a critical procedure. . . . To be sure, apart from perhaps archaeological remains, all external facts have been through what Elton calls “some cooking process,” noting that no external facts are “raw.” (pp.20-21)

Sir Geoffrey Elton

This is misleading. Firstly, Elton said the opposite of what McKnight claims for him here. Here is what Elton actually said (with my emphasis):

[It is] at present virtually axiomatic that historians never work with the materials [facts] of the past raw: some cooking process is supposed to have invariably intervened before the historian becomes even conscious of his facts. If that were so — if there were no way of knowing the knowable in its true state — historical truth would indeed become an elusive, possibly a non-existent, thing. (p.53, The Practice of History)

I focus on Elton here because, as McKnight points out, “most historical Jesus scholars are fundamentally Eltonion” (p.16). (I will explain Elton in more detail later.)  What McKnight is doing here is justifying a procedure used by biblical historians to create facts to suit their theories and beliefs. He does this by claiming the HJ scholar’s fact-creation is consistent with what nonbiblical historians do. Nonbiblical historians do not do what McKnight and many HJ historians think or at least seem to say they do. Later McKnight is more specific and explains exactly how HJ historians come to discover these supposedly “existential facts” of theirs. They do so through exegesis of the gospels:

In other word, history involves three steps. . . . They are (1) the discovery of existential facts — in our case the discovery of the gospel evidence by exegesis, or of archaeological data, or of political contexts. Then (2) there is criticism of existential facts. . . . An existential fact often becomes nonexistential at the hands of a skeptical historical Jesus scholar. . . . (pp.23-24) (Point 3 is about interpreting and making meaning of facts.)

This is all bollocks. It is here where biblical scholars totally jump the rails and part company with nonbiblical historians. McKnight says that facts can cease to be facts when scrutinized by sceptical minds. But nonbiblical historians say that this is true only in the case of “secondary” or inferred “facts” that are derived from other more basic facts. In the case of the basic facts there is no question as to the possibility of their nonexistence. They are there and cannot cease to exist. The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 is a basic fact that can never cease to exist. But secondary facts derived from that basic fact, such as the precise course of the battle, or the actions of particular individuals in that battle, may only be able to be indirectly inferred. Such secondary “facts” are often disputable and may not always survive. Secondary facts are derived from some “cooking process”, but Elton is clear that these are not the foundation of historical enquiry. Historical enquiry begins with raw, uncooked, existential facts. (Epistemology, the question of whether these facts are “knowledge” or “belief on the basis of very good reasons” is another question.)

Basic and public Facts versus complex and private “facts”

Here is what historian G.R. Elton wrote about facts, “existential facts”, facts that by definition as facts cannot cease to exist as facts (as McKnight admits HJ “facts” can and do), such as the day on which Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, the occurrence of the war itself:

Without the simple details of accurate chronology, genealogy and historical geography, history would have no existence. And of those simple facts an enormous number are presently known. (p.14)

And here is what he wrote about the other kind of inferred facts (again my emphasis):

read more »

Chomsky, Crossley and the betrayal of an independent approach to historical Jesus studies


Noam Chomsky

It is easy for theologians and biblical scholars to wear prophet mantles and appear to be courageously attacking the sins of the established powers. There can be an easy smugness in identifying one’s position with “the conscience” of the guild, the church, the public or nation. “Speaking Truth to Power” loses some of its awe when one finds the Power in turn rewarding its “gainsayers” with various honours and security of status. The game was played out without embarrassment from either side in Australia when one of its most socially and environmentally regressive Prime Ministers, John Howard, recommended a prominent social justice advocate cleric, Peter Hollingworth, to the Governor-Generalship, and awarded a leading environmentalist, Tim Flannery, Australian of the Year.

So it was with a little hope, but not too much, that I approached biblical scholar James Crossley’s book, Jesus in an Age of Terror, that opens with the following quotation from Noam Chomsky’s The Responsibility of Intellectuals:

It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious.

Unfortunately, Crossley himself falls into the trap of joining other religion scholars who boast of critiquing imperialist, racial and class-warfare themes while in reality missing the heart and soul of Chomsky’s message. As a consequence Crossley becomes yet another brick in the wall of the establishment power he critiques only superficially.

Here is Crossley’s ironically correct explanation of the Chomsky model of how mainstream media works:

The propaganda model shows that the press is not really an important tool of democracy and it is not really disagreeable, argumentative or subversive of political power, at least not in any significant sense. The function of the mass media is to provide support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity. This is reflected in their choices, emphases, and omissions. It is the powerful who fix the assumptions of media discourse and decide what is allowed to be seen and heard, often with the support of academics. Disagreements reflect disagreements among the elites. Although individuals may hold very different views from the agenda of mass media, these views will not be seriously reflected in the overall agenda or agendas. (pp.3-4, Jesus in an Age of Terror)

Yet this is exactly the place where Crossley’s own supposedly “independent” studies of Christian origins find themselves. He shares with his more religiously interested colleagues the logically flawed historiographical and epistemological assumptions that sustain that guild’s reason for existence.

Everyone knows — it is a simple truism — that one needs independent verification of any narrative before making assumptions about whether it is factual or not. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the [many a biblical scholar], it is not at all obvious.

read more »

Jesus and the lotus petals, and the missing dimension in historical Jesus studies

The strangest thought hit me while sight-seeing yet another Buddhist shrine or worship area – this time in the Ancient Siam park (official site still calls it The Ancient City). Attached to (certainly nearby) probably every Buddhist public temple area is a place where one can buy appropriate offerings (such as flowers, prayer sticks, candles) to place around the statues. The people behind the tables selling these items are clearly not the main pillars of the establishment rituals. They are certainly not the clerics — whether monks, priests, or whatever. And they always convey the happy and peaceful spiritual demeanor appropriate to the place of worship.

I tried to imagine Jesus storming up, violently wrecking their stalls and roaring accusations of overpriced lotus petals.

The thought made so much sense of the argument of those scholars who have complained that Jesus’ supposed attack on those who sold offerings for the Jerusalem temple does not strike one as an action of the most rational of men. Why attack the “little guys”? What did this have to do with “the system” that he was supposedly seeking to address? Apart from those pressing around the immediate vicinity, who would have noticed, anyway, in such a crowded, noisy place that was off-centre stage anyway? And what would even those relative few have thought of someone committing such a destructive and out-of-control act?

The Avignon Exchange was created in a theologi...

Image via Wikipedia

Note the outrageous $6 price tag for a cheap lotus flower candle and fantasize Jesus descending to scare the daylights out of that greedy, money-hungry elderly lady lotus-candle-flower seller. Of course, it helps if you re-image the scene to anti-semitic stereotypes.

Story sense; historical nonsense

As Vardis Fisher remarked in relation to his novel, Jesus Came Again: A Parable, the story gospel makes no sense as history. It only works as a parable.

Even Jesus Seminar founder, Robert Funk, warned that any event that can be explained as a fulfillment of prophecy has its explanation. If there is no other evidential reason or support for the reality of an event, then it is simplest and most reasonable to accept that the author created the event to demonstrate the prophetic fulfillment.

Come to think of it, isn’t the very existence of Jesus told as a prophetic fulfillment? But consistency has rarely been a strong point among scholarly arguments relating to “explaining the history” behind the Bible.

King Arthur really does have a lot to say

Hector Avalos nearly hit the nail squarely on the head in The End of Biblical Studies when he drew detailed attention to the frequently made rhetorical case of the historicity of King Arthur as a comparison for evidence for the historical Jesus. Avalos showed that the fact that we have some of the most detailed narrative of King Arthur’s words and deeds means nothing against the other fact that there is squat evidence for the existence of Arthur himself.

Title page of The Boy's King Arthur
Image via Wikipedia

Most of us are happy to credit “astonishingly” creative powers to the imaginations of authors of a medieval romance or a book of Mormon, but a significant number of biblical scholars seem to balk at the suggestion that a gospel author could write any of our stories of Jesus with anything but a “tradition” that can “only” have been derived ultimately from some “eyewitness report”. Not even similar miracle stories on the part of Elijah could be enough to stimulate any imagination to create a variant in a different setting.

I said Avalos “nearly” hit the nail on the head. He failed to address the simple logical fact that a single narrative can never be assumed to be either historical or fictional unless we have some reason that is external to the narrative itself to confirm it either way.

The simplest truth

Every parent finds some occasion to teach a child not to believe everything they hear or read. Legal systems are built around the testing of all witness claims and evidence. Elementary philosophical classes distinguish between what we can “know”, what we can “believe on reasonable grounds”, what we “believe on faith”, etc.

But when I quote the simplest and most obvious principle that historians need to be sure they corroborate a narrative before assuming it points to historical persons or events, a liberal Christian biblical scholar (James McGrath) objects that the particular historian I quote is “a communist” and therefore even his historical methods are not to be trusted. Another biblical scholar who boasts of methodological “independence” from faith or religious interests (James Crossley), but who nonetheless makes the same basic methodological error of assuming the historicity of the central character of a narrative without corroboration, complained that I had “spectacularly” misrepresented his work when I demonstrated his commission of the same fundamental error — despite using other work by the same historian. (I am still waiting for his reply to my request that he support his complaint.) read more »

Back again

Back again — most of the elephants in Chiang Mai were fanciful, the Hmong hilltribe no longer wear their outfits but offer them to tourists for a fee, and nothing had quite prepared me for the total drenchings of the Songkran festivities









and I had been considering a much longer moratorium on my blogging here, but a mix of reading (Hurtado and Avalos) and reflections within a non-Western and non-Christian environment have prompted me to finish off the complete nonsense that passes for scholarship in historical Jesus studies.

But first, some sleep.

And after that little flurry of bloggaloguing I’m off on holiday

Songkran Festival 2009 in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Image by UweBKK via Flickr

i’ll be rushed when i get back so to save time i post the Chiang Mai (Songkran time) pics before i leave

Girl @ Doi Suthep Chiang Mai Thailand
Image by Mac63 via Flickr
Chiang Mai Elephants
Image by mtuttle via Flickr