2010-05-10

Dating Mark early

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by Neil Godfrey

Rob did not read the rules

Image by mizinformation via Flickr

In order to know how to interpret a document it is very often helpful to know when it was written. Maurice Casey (Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel) and James Crossley (The Date of Mark’s Gospel), however, turn this around and use their interpretation of the Gospel of Mark to determine when the Gospel was written. They date this gospel to within ten years of the supposed death of Jesus.

They begin by falling in line with the untested and unquestioned assumption of their peers that assumes that the gospels are based on a historical Jesus. There is no evidence for this proposition, so biblical scholars proceed by means of a circular methodology to discover the evidence they need to support it by analyzing different parts of the gospel texts. Cultural tradition and contemporary public and institutional support for this process enables it to flourish unquestioned, and give licence to its practitioners to ignore or ridicule any attempts to expose their circularity. Words of practical advice from Schweitzer and Schwartz to Hobsbawm and Thompson are dismissed. Discussions by Elton and Carr on historiography are misrepresented. They have learned nothing from the exposure of the same methodological flaws at the root of Albrightianism. All this has been addressed in previous posts and comments.

One passage addressed by Casey and Crossley in support of their case that the Gospel of Mark was written before 40 c.e. is Mark 2:23-28

And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

Even though there is no historical evidence for a strong presence of Pharisees in Galilee until after the Jewish war and the fall of Jerusalem in 70; and even though we have no evidence that the laws of Leviticus were widely practiced in Galilee in the time of Jesus; and even through Casey and Crossley concede there is no evidence that there was any sabbath law regarding the picking of grain until late rabbinic times, and even though there is evidence that the Pharisees were in fact far more lenient towards the poor and did not make crushing burdensome rules for them and were popular among the poor, Casey and Crossley, and many of their peers, are convinced that scenes like this are historical.

Importance of an Aramaic source

Casey further assumes that since a historical Jesus and his followers would have spoken in Aramaic, that the author of the Gospel of Mark, written in Greek, must have had an Aramaic source available to him as his source of information for some few of his narrative blocs. This is important for his dating of Mark early, because the Gospels that we have are written in Greek, and it must be assumed that an Aramaic record of anything Jesus said or did must have been very early, must have been recorded very soon after death of Jesus – certainly before the Greek versions which are all that have survived.

And the significance of a pre-gospel Aramaic documentation of a few of the sayings and words of Jesus is that it may be possible to discern in it variations from our Greek texts that offer us a more original (and different) view of Jesus. And if Mark used such an Aramaic source, it may be that he intended to convey its meaning and assumptions when he wrote his Greek text — even if he was not a good translator and did not really convey the meaning perfectly all the time.

If all of this is starting to sound like a lot of “ifs” and “maybes”, then I can only urge deference to the wisdom of the scholarly guild.

Evidence for an Aramaic source

Exhibit 1: plural for a singular

The first detail of evidence that Casey offers is Mark’s use of the plural for “sabbath” in Mark 2:23. Mark was written in Greek, but transliterated the Aramaic word for “sabbath”. The Aramaic ends in an “a”, making it sound like a Greek plural word which also very often ends the same way. Even though Casey acknowledges that the plural form for “sabbath” was part and parcel of “Jewish Greek” usage for “sabbath” even when the singular was meant, Casey still implies that “Mark’s translator” directly mistranslated an Aramaic singular word as a Greek plural. See p. 140 of Aramaic Sources:

Hence the use of [Greek for “the sabbaths”] by Mark’s translator for the singular [Aramaic for singular “sabbath”], the ending of which would encourage him to use the plural rather than the singular . . .

The fact that the plural “sabbaths” was in general use among biblical Greek when the singular was meant, so is not necessarily a direct translation of an Aramaic text at hand, is quickly bypassed by Casey.

Exhibit 2: unsatisfactory Greek

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields . . . .

Here Casey notes that the Greek for “going through” is “notoriously unsatisfactory Greek”.

Casey states that the “unsatisfactory Greek” is a result of a literal translation of an Aramaic source, but he is not clear on exactly what the original Aramaic actually was, and nor does he compare Mark’s “unsatisfactory Greek” in this instance with the many other places Mark’s Greek is reputed to be poor quality. And Casey by no means attempts to explain the whole of Mark as a translation of Aramaic.

I am surprised that Casey makes no mention of the significance of the word for “way” here, given major scholarly publications that view Mark’s gospel as a gospel primarily about a metaphorical “way” of the Lord (e.g. Kelber.)

Exhibit 3: the Greek words do not say what an Aramaic source would have said

. . . . and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. (Mark 2:23)

Casey remarks that the Greek word for “pick” or “pluck” is positioned in the sentence to suggest it is of incidental meaning. But, Casey argues, it is the “picking” of the corn that is “the main point of the dispute”, and so its lack of emphasis in the Greek sentence indicates that the translator misunderstood an Aramaic construction that must have given it more emphasis!

To me the passage sounds like it is more about the unique authority of Jesus with respect to the sabbath than specifically about whether a Christian is allowed to “pick” grain on the sabbath. But Casey does not see read it that way.

There is more evidence, more of the same, but these three openers give the general idea of the case for an Aramaic source. I don’t find it very persuasive. Maybe that’s because I’m not an Aramaic scholar.

Reading the author’s mind through what he did not write

Both Casey and Crossley share the remarkable power to read the mind of the author of the Gospel of Mark (let’s call him “Mark” from now on). Their trick is to survey the Hebrew scriptures and centuries later rabbinic writings, and to compare the same story with how it was told in other gospels, to find so many more details Mark could have written, but did not. From his failure to detail these extra background points, Casey and Crossley gain insight into what Mark was assuming and what he was intending his audience to understand.

Here is where this form of “bibliomancy“(?) leads C and C:

Even though the context of the Markan passage has the disciples near both Peter’s (and possibly Jesus’) home in Capernaum, and the homes of many other ardent followers — a few verses earlier the disciples had feasted at fellow-disciple Levi’s house; and even though the passage gives every indication that the disciples are acting out of nothing more than normal hunger or peckishness . . . .

Even though we encounter a number of details suggesting the narrative scene is an artificial one, set up as a parabolic tale:

  • such as its use of the word for “way” which is a key thematic image throughout the gospel, so much so that it is sometimes known as “the gospel of the way”, so that “way” is widely understood to contain a metaphoric or parabolic sense when it is used;
  • such as the fact that one does not normally eat raw grain, especially in a village area where one has many supporters (e.g. only a few verses earlier they had been feasting at fellow-disciple Levi’s house)
  • such as the Pharisees just happening to be out in the same cornfields at the time Jesus and his disciples were there

Even though Mark uses Son of Man as a title for Jesus in several places in his gospel (e.g. 8:31; 8:38; 9:9; 9:12; 9:31; 10:33; 10:45; 13:26; 13:34; 14:21; 14:41; 14:62) . . . .

Casey concludes from his detailed studies (especially biblical and rabbinical rules about sabbath observance, and the law that allowed poor people to take grain from the edges of fields) that Mark assumed his readers would know from the little he said that:

  • the disciples were generally desperately poor and destitute
  • the disciples were very hungry and in real need
  • (Even if Jesus was also desperately hungry we know he was not poor, since only the poor were allowed to take the grain as his disciples were doing)
  • because the disciples were so poor and hungry they were not really breaking the sabbath by picking corn
  • Jesus did not use “son of man” to refer to himself in particular, but only in the generic sense to indicate “any (Jewish) man” has the right to make judgments about how to keep the sabbath holy.

So when modern readers think that Mark was merely saying that on the sabbath day the disciples with Jesus were out in the cornfield and began plucking corn, and that Pharisees who happened to be standing nearby criticized them for violating the sabbath; and that Jesus was declaring that he was Lord of the sabbath, they are missing the point — according to Casey and Crossley.

How all of this dates Mark early

So what has all of this to do with the dating of Mark before 40 ce?

Here C&C turn to a comparison with how Matthew and Luke describe the same scene:

Matthew says:

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. (12:1)

Luke writes:

And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. (6:1)

The crucial difference, according to C&C, is that Matthew and Luke explicitly state that the disciples “ate” the corn they plucked. Luke adds the means by which they were able to eat raw corn — by softening it first through rubbing.

Now from this “new” information, the explicit statement that the disciples actually ate the grain, C&C argue that Matthew and Luke are “explaining” to their readers more clearly than Mark ever did that the disciples were not actually breaking the sabbath! Because Mark did not actually state that the disciples were eating as they picked the corn, there was a risk that some readers might assume that Mark’s disciples were gathering the corn to take away to eat at a later date — and that definitely would be a clear violation of the sabbath!

Why would Mark’s original audience not think this? Why did Mark not have to make this clear himself?

The answer is because he must have been writing at a time and place when and where all Christians routinely kept the sabbath as per the biblical command, and clearly understood the Levitical law that allowed the poor and hungry to eat from grainfields. Mark did not have to spell it out.

Matthew and Luke must have been written after this knowledge was lost or no longer universal, so they had to spell it all out by explicitly referring to the disciples “eating” the grain as they picked it.

And the Son of Man reference? Mark assumed his readers would understand that, as per his Aramaic source, the “son of man” was merely a generic term for any human, and that what Jesus was telling the Pharisees was that any Jewish man (one trained at least, like a rabbi) had the right to make judgments about how to keep the sabbath just as the Pharisees themselves did. Again, this points to an early date for Mark since it was in these earliest days that the Aramaic “son of man” idiom was so understood.

And for Jesus saying that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath? This might be interpreted by later Christians who did not keep the sabbath as indicating that the biblical sabbath command to rest was no longer applicable. So Matthew and Luke omitted it lest their audiences think that Jesus was really arguing this. Mark could get away with saying it because in his day, before 40 ce, no-one would have interpreted it as in any way compromising the law.

And this is the way C&C argue that the Gospel of Mark was written very early, before Christians in Paul’s day ceased to observe the sabbath.

Some people might find these sorts of arguments more persuasive than others.

Other remarks

C&C write much more than the above summary indicates. I have attempted to single out a core thread from their arguments for discussion here. They spend many paragraphs and pages attempting to argue the facts of relevant Pharisaical law at the time, and also to argue a case that Jesus himself only opposed Pharisaical additions to the biblical laws, but adhered staunchly to biblical law itself.

They also make clear that a single argument such as the one above does not establish an argument for an early date for Mark. To do that, they say, they need other arguments to build up cumulative weight. The other arguments (e.g. Jesus teaching on divorce and handwashing), to my understanding, are as light as the one above, none of which has mass enough to even begin to tilt the most sensitive gram scale.

This photo of Irene Gerken and Clemens appeared in THE NEW YORK TIMES, April 19, 1908.

Dating Mark early

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58 Comments

  • Steven Carr
    2010-05-10 15:09:16 UTC - 15:09 | Permalink

    I think Steph put the importance of Aramaic sources in perspective when she wrote ‘no, texts are not authentic because they might have an aramaic background. Not even casey says so’

    I am totally baffled.

    Take these 2 things :-

    ‘Because Mark did not actually state that the disciples were eating as they picked the corn, there was a risk that some readers might assume that Mark’s disciples were gathering the corn to take away to eat at a later date…’

    ‘Mark assumed his readers would know from the little he said that:
    •the disciples were very hungry and in real need….’

    So Mark deliberately did not mention eating because his readers would have assumed that the disciples were very hungry.

    Casey can see that, but not, of course, Matthew and Luke, who knew that readers might assume something else if no explicit mention of eating was made.

    If Casey can see that readers would assume the disciples were very hungry, why were Matthew and Luke incapable of the same insight as Casey?

    Because such knowledge of Levitical laws was lost? (but known by Mark’s readers who had to have the currency and language explained to them)

    But how do we know that such knowledge was lost?

    Because Matthew and Luke put in explicit mentions of eating?

    This is totally and utterly circular.

    This is just ugly, offensive scholarship by Casey – of no worth whatsoever.

    Offensive as in offending aesthetic sensibilities. Good scholarship produces insight, not clouds of circular, woolly , self-referential castles in the sky.

    • 2010-05-10 15:58:33 UTC - 15:58 | Permalink

      Agreed. There are so many spinning wheels within wheels in this argument of Casey’s — reiterated and “strengthened” by Crossley — that it has taken me a long time just to bring myself to write as much as I did. They write many pages of pointless details and the most “fantastic” lightweight arguments, and it would take many more pages to address each point.

      Reading their arguments leaves one agog at their courage to go public. I can’t believe these share the same corridors with Philip Davies.

      It’s the sort of nonsense one would expect from hobbyists with eccentric ideas and who are untrained in basic principles of logic and scholarship.

      I’d be interested to know who cites their works.

      I can understand why Sheffield was at one point about to shut their biblical studies department down. It was only pity for students already enrolled with futures planned that led them to relent for the time being, I think.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-05-10 17:22:04 UTC - 17:22 | Permalink

    Whay do I get the feeling that you are targeting Steph here? I’d be interested to hear her response.

    • 2010-05-10 17:39:10 UTC - 17:39 | Permalink

      Crossley’s work on the early date of Mark are taken quite seriously (even as something akin to unanswerable scholarship) by a number of people I have encountered in discussion groups. Some years back I was also attempting to find all scholarly work I could muster on every angle for the dating of the gospels, and had hoped that Crossley’s work would offer some substantial arguments for an early date. My “great disappointment” has been brewing ever since then, and I was quite surprised to hear Crossley’s work mentioned as something of major milestone in the dating of Mark. So I’ve had it on the backburner for some time. Steph has prompted me to speed up the backburner, no doubt. (I don’t like to hurt Steph — but I get the strong impression she can take it and will no doubt come back with more than she takes.)

      But now I’ve posted this I intend to leave the topic — and Crossley and Casey — alone. I’ve said all I have to say about what I think of their work. It’s as bad as Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and much more tedious to read. What’s wrong with British historical Jesus scholars that makes them so bad? Is it the C of E culture or what?

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNjcuZ-LiSY&feature=related]

      • Bill Warrant
        2010-05-11 01:13:17 UTC - 01:13 | Permalink

        What do you think of Dettering’s late dating of the Synoptics (or at least the Synoptic apocalypse, but I doubt there was a separate pre-synoptic apocalypse) post-135. It seems Robert Price accepts this view, but I really don’t know. It is pushing the dates really to their limits.

      • 2010-05-11 18:28:50 UTC - 18:28 | Permalink

        No, I don’t think it is “pushing the dates to their limits” — I know what you mean, though. The fact that we tend to think of it as “pushing to the limits” tells us how indoctrinated we are by the ideologically dated 60-75 ce point for Mark.

        Baur also proposed second century dates for the gospels if I understand correctly, and since I read that Lightfoot was supposed to have “demolished” his arguments, I have been trying to find access to the exact publication to see how he supposedly did that. So far only limited success.

        It makes proper practical sense to date a document by evidence external to it. That’s how documents are normally dated. Once again we see biblical exceptionalism at work when its scholars create a model for historical origins, and a model for gospel evolution, and then look to see how the internal contents of the gospels might be interpreted to fit the model.

        If they were not constrained by ideology they would approach the dating of documents by seeing when they first appear in the external record. From that evidence, they would seek to see how they can be explained in relation to that environment.

        One would also take a lot more notice of the late-first century and second century anachronisms in the gospels themselves.

        I want to write up something soon about my two bits of reading on the gospel dates. Price and Detering will be referenced, I am sure.

  • David McBride
    2010-05-10 20:17:56 UTC - 20:17 | Permalink

    What do you think of the using the dates when the gospels appear in the historical and literary record as a starting point to begin dating them. D.M. Murdock in her book “Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of the Christ” gave the following dates:
    Ur-Markus 150
    Ur-Lukas 150+
    Luke 170
    Mark 175
    John 178
    Matthew 180

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-05-11 01:07:24 UTC - 01:07 | Permalink

      Wow, that all seems too late. Of course we don’t know whether there was an Ur-Markus or Ur-Luke, but I think Justin Martyr in the 150s knows both Luke and Matthew or else he knows either a proto-Luke and/or proto-Matthew or he knows a harmony of the two. Marcion either knows Luke or an Ur-Luke (I think probably Luke). Then there are many texts that may know Matthew or a proto-Matthew prior to 180. I’m also convinced Luke knows Matthew, so Matthew in 180 is close to impossible. John in 178? For that to be true p52 must be more than half a century later than most scholars believe (although this is not that problematic given the unreliable dating of p52). I also happen to believe Luke knows John, but I’m in a minority position on that.

      • C.J. O'Brien
        2010-05-11 03:00:42 UTC - 03:00 | Permalink

        Ha ha! I also think Luke knows Matthew (and if true, Q fades into mist).

        (Neil, you should write something about the tendentious definitions of “dependence” that scholars use, for instance in insisting that John can be considered an “independent attestation” based on “pre-Marcan” sources and not on the synoptics.)

        Bill, I don’t think the dates David McBride gives are the dates Murdock suggests for composition (haven’t read the book myself) but starting points for dating based on when the texts entered the historical record. So those would be the termina ad quem, dates after which the texts could not have been composed.

      • 2010-05-11 18:32:00 UTC - 18:32 | Permalink

        Damn. I should have read ahead before I posted my comment reply above. You guys already covered what I said. Woops.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-05-11 03:08:48 UTC - 03:08 | Permalink

    Thanks for clearing that up CJ (though I still think the termina ad quem are a bit earlier and the supposed Ur-Gospels have no place in such a list).

    • C.J. O'Brien
      2010-05-11 03:31:09 UTC - 03:31 | Permalink

      Hi Bill,

      I’d be interested in knowing your reasons for thinking Luke knows Matthew, just to see if we’ve independently hit on some of the same issues. (It’s certainly not a very well-represented position among NT scholars, but I guess Q is somewhat of a sacred cow.)

      And, yes, I am also skeptical of “ur-Gospel” claims relating to Mark. It’s almost funny: Raymond Brown helpfully includes in an appendix to The Death of the Messiah a breakdown of no fewer than 34 different supposed reconstructions of the “pre-Marcan Passion Narrative”. Needless to say, there is wide disagreement, and not a single passage is treated by all 34 as pre-Marcan.

      Regarding Brown’s (exhaustive, 2-volume) book generally, I have to say, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” I still feel queasy, but it’s good exercise I suppose.

  • 2010-05-11 04:05:04 UTC - 04:05 | Permalink

    I’ve tried to take you seriously and discuss issues with you because others don’t. Your only serious readers are mythers to whom your “sort of nonsense one would expect from hobbyists with eccentric ideas and who are untrained in basic principles of logic and scholarship” appeals. Unlike Casey and Crossley’s scholarship, trained scholars don’t consider your blog worth a glance. I’ve been told frequently by others that I’m wasting my time.

    You once again repeatedly misrepresent their arguments as I have pointed out before. For example you again pour scorn on the obvious fact that Mark does not say ‘as they went’: he says ‘to make a path’, which Casey explains, whereas you cannot do so, and simply refer, without a proper reference, to scholars who interpret the English word ‘way’ in a metaphorical sense congenial to you. In many circumstances “way” is a correct translation of Mark’s word, but not when it is used to turn his expression into the English ‘made their way’ or the like. You have repeatedly made it obvious, as you say, that you are “not an Aramaic scholar”, which underlines your extraordinary combination of confidence and ignorance. Towards the end you do acknowledge that “They spend many paragraphs and pages attempting to argue the facts of relevant Pharisaical law at the time, and also to argue a case that….they need other arguments to build up cumulative weight. The other arguments…” This makes nonsense of your opening assertions about them having ‘assumption’ ‘circular methodology’ and so on.

    You do however notice that they share some views with ‘biblical scholars’, that “many of their peers” hold some of their opinions too, and that “Crossley’s work on the early date of Mark are taken quite seriously (even as something akin to unanswerable scholarship) by a number of people I have encountered”. You are then rude about a large group of scholars: “What’s wrong with British historical Jesus scholars that makes them so bad? Is it the C of E culture or what?” Most British New Testament scholars do not belong to the C of E, which Casey left in 1962 and Crossley has never belonged to. Nonetheless, you declare yourself “agog at their courage to go public. I can’t believe these share the same corridors with Philip Davies. It’s the sort of nonsense one would expect from hobbyists with eccentric ideas and who are untrained in basic principles of logic and scholarship.” Your rudeness underlines the fact that, if you were right, Crossley would never have been appointed at Sheffield, Casey would not have been appointed to a personal chair, or been awarded a British Academy Research Readership and a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship etc.etc., and neither of them would have had their work published by major reputable publishers who are rightly more than a little dubious about publishing the work of mythers because of its appalling quality.

    You also misrepresent the situation at the Sheffield Department. When one PVC initiated measures against it, the Vice-Chancellor received letters from all over England and from all over the world pointing out what an excellent Department it is. These included colleagues in departments elsewhere which have valuable cooperative projects with the Sheffield Department. Masses of students, past as well as present, also wrote in support of the Department, and those who are there now had appropriate meetings to make their views known. This is why it has been saved and is now beginning to recruit more staff. Your prejudice has caused you to make up an untrue story, not to understand the situation at all.

    Bill, Although Godfrey is obviously full of hatred for Christianity, scholarship and especially me, he can’t damage me or any scholar’s credibility. Nobody in the field takes him seriously. Such intense hatred is unhealthy. It’s good that he is moving onto other things.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-05-11 13:19:02 UTC - 13:19 | Permalink

      Steph goes apopleptic about rudeness, but throughout her long cannot actually defend the ‘arguments’ of Casey and Crossley.

      Her entire outlook is that Crossley and Casey are scholars, so what they produce is scholarship.

      But she cannot defend the arguments. She cannot even explain what actual arguments are used….

      • Steven Carr
        2010-05-11 13:35:30 UTC - 13:35 | Permalink

        Steph did make a telling point – a heavy blow which illustrates why Godfrey can never have the insight Casey has.

        Neil Godfrey cannot read these Aramaic sources behind Mark.

        Only Casey can. He is the only person in the world who can read Aramaic documents behind Mark that nobody else can see and that no Christian in the first century ever mentioned existing.

        With the superhuman ability to read Aramaic documents that nobody has seen or heard of, and to read them better than Mark himself, who allegedly had them in front of him, it is little wonder that Casey managed to get such a prestigious appointment.

        Mythers cannot compete with people who can read invisible documents.

        The only surprise is that with such powers, Casey has not been invited to be our next Prime Minister.

        But perhaps the ability to read invisible Aramaic documents is not needed in Number 10 Downing Street, although it is invaluable in becoming an Independent Biblical Scholar

        That is Independent as in not being Dependent upon texts actually existing before you translate them into Greek.

      • Bill Warrant
        2010-05-11 15:07:03 UTC - 15:07 | Permalink

        Wow Steven….”our next prime minister”? Your a Brit as well? Guess I can’t take you seriously either 🙂 Although, your country has produced the best biblioblogging scholar out there (too bad for you guys that he’s moved to the US)

    • 2010-05-11 18:51:02 UTC - 18:51 | Permalink

      Steph, you do not by your own admission read my posts, and your replies to the ones you do read demonstrate a very superficial skimming of what I have written, so I don’t know what you mean by saying you have attempted to “take me seriously”.

      You have not addressed the main point of a single one of my posts yet. You have, as did McGrath and Crossley, sidestep, refuse to hear or read, the actual points about method that I am addressing. You and they talk about related spinoff topics (like references to the philosophy of history) or seize on an incidental detail that that they can distort (e.g. my detail about the use of language normally pertaining to “reporting”) to excuse them from the main point or make silly bizarre claims about my sources (e.g. about Doherty, Thompson and Hobsbawm) that demonstrate their ignorance and unwillingness to even consider the questions I raise.

      You, for example, said that Hobsbawm’s quote was irrelevant because the gospels are not about bandits etc. I don’t know if you are serious or not when you say that. It matters not one whit what the specific example or application is, whether bandits, kings, literary characters or Jesus, the very logic and practical point about the nature of evidence holds as a basic simple truism — whether we are talking history or biology. The point is central. You have not addressed it. Nor did Crossley even want to admit it. You do not even appear to understand the logic of circular reasoning and appear to suggest that multiple arguments that can demonstrate as based on a fallacy will win the day simply because there are many more than one of them.

      Only a tiny handful of biblical scholars seem to understand this. I venture that just about every other historian of nonbiblical studies takes it for granted! Most Jesus scholars in books I have read of theirs demonstrate ignorance of basic historical methodology in other disciplines. They continue to insist they are wearing the finest robes in all the kingdom, and will have none of anyone who publicly notices their nakedness.

      It is not as if they are more stupid than anyone else. They are products of a cultural inheritance and fail to see how entrapped they are by the assumptions of millennia. But when they react with insult and falsehoods instead of rational civil engagement with the challenges offered them, then they are not doing themselves or their profession any long-term favours.

      (Oh, and by the way, as for your ability to read my mind and what it hates, you should check out my posts here that itemize much of the good that Christianity — even fundamentalism — has done me and others. It is not all bad and I do not “hate” it — but I sure do hate it when it allows itself to be prostituted as an excuse or cover for deception and brain damage.)

  • Robert
    2010-05-11 05:27:03 UTC - 05:27 | Permalink

    Wow Neil, looks like you struck a nerve with the apologists.

    Keep up the good work.

    • 2010-05-12 02:59:55 UTC - 02:59 | Permalink

      that’s a bit silly although I’m sure it’s good to give him encouragement. I’ve never been Christian or believed in any gods and I never will, it’s just that I haven’t had any personal experience to inspire any hang-ups or hatred against any religious tradition, including Christianity, like so many atheists have. And I’m a singular not a plural. And no nerve struck at my end but I might have struck his. 🙂

      • Bill Warrant
        2010-05-12 03:59:05 UTC - 03:59 | Permalink

        Of course you are an apologist Steph. You are an apologist for aramaic sources behind the Gospels and for a historical Jesus 🙂

      • 2010-05-12 04:03:45 UTC - 04:03 | Permalink

        tralala and you’re an apologist for no historical Jesus and no history of sources. 🙂

      • Robert
        2010-05-14 07:22:14 UTC - 07:22 | Permalink

        An apologetic perhaps?

      • 2010-05-14 07:35:59 UTC - 07:35 | Permalink

        I don’t know if I’ve told you before Bill, but when I began my undergrad which included things like classical history, psychology etc as well as world religions, I was an apologist for mythicism – I didn’t really think Jesus existed. It was only gradually that I changed my mind.

      • 2010-05-15 19:21:00 UTC - 19:21 | Permalink

        That’s interesting, Steph. Why did you think that Jesus was a myth? What were your reasons at the time?

      • 2010-05-16 02:03:47 UTC - 02:03 | Permalink

        whoops I replied at the end of the thread instead of here:-)

  • David McBride
    2010-05-11 20:24:24 UTC - 20:24 | Permalink

    Just for your information. I ran across a book that purports to be an independent examination of the external evidence for the dating of all the books alledgedly from the first two centuries of christianity. Sometimes he is hard to follow, but fortunately he provides a clarifying summary at the end of each chapter. A pdf is available at google books. “History of the Christian Religion to the year two hundred” by Charles B. Waite.

  • 2010-05-12 10:00:25 UTC - 10:00 | Permalink

    Steph, I have a question about an Aramaic and its Greek translation for you. I found Casey to be a bit vague in his Aramaic Sources when attributing attribute Mark’s “unsatisfactory Greek for “going through/making their way/traveling a path” to an Aramaic source. Can you fill in the gaps — can you tell me what Aramaic phrase specifically would lend itself to the awkwardness of Mark’s Greek translation of it? (not just Casey’s “something very like” X, p.140), but what Aramaic wording exactly could have accounted for Mark’s particular Greek wording? And can you tell me exactly why the Greek of Mark is unsatisfactory, and if there are any similar unsatisfactory turns of phrase anywhere else in his Gospel? If so, can these also be explained as being a translation of an Aramaic source?

    I would be impressed with the Aramaic translation theory if one could demonstrate that the Greek we have can be explained specifically — in its details — as a translation of Aramaic. The sort of detailed analysis that I would find worth seriously consideration is what we find in Nicholas Perrin’s work of the Gospel of Thomas (Thomas and Tatian) and the detailed word for word and catchphrase analysis he undertook to demonstrate a plausible case that Thomas was originally composed in Syriac. Casey’s exposition, however, is nothing near so pointedly coherent and extensively demonstrative as Perrin’s excercise.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-05-12 15:01:44 UTC - 15:01 | Permalink

      Is , for example, the evidence of translation from Aramaic as convincing as the evidence that Mark used Latin loanwords?

      I quote from ‘The purpose of Mark’s Gospel: an early Christian response…’ by Adam Winn ‘In Greek , an accusative or dative generally follows the verb to which it belongs while the reverse is true in Latin. This Latin word order occurs in Mark 37 times, significantly more than it occurs in either Matthew or Luke’

      Guess there must have been a Latin source behind Mark…..

      By the way, the author finds Crossley’s arguments unconvincing, pointing out that somebody who has to spend 7 pages explaining to fellow scholars what the debate about hand-washing was about can’t argue that Gentile readers of the Gospel knew about all of this in such phenomenal detail needed for the argument to work.

    • 2010-05-13 04:25:33 UTC - 04:25 | Permalink

      That is misleading Neil. He actually argued that Mark gives a perfectly literal translation of lm‘bd ’wrḥ, and that’s how Mark produced his unsatisfactory Greek expression. He argued that Mark’s source was ‘very like’ what he had reconstructed, not because he thought there was room for uncertainty about this phrase, but because there is always a small but unimportant degree of uncertainty about the reconstruction of anything as long as this. For example, Mark’s source might have read hw’ after hwh. He did not put this as it isn’t as probable. Specifying everything like this would make a very long and tedious monograph, and would not improve it. Where there is more uncertainty he specifies it. For example, he made four different suggestions for what the source might have had when Mark put hōste, explained why he had good reason to put hōste, and set out the limited effect this has on our interpretation of what Jesus meant (pp.164-5). Where the degree of uncertainty is more serious in identifying a word used by a source, he says so, e.g. on the possible words for baptism (pp.201-5). These possible words are otherwise found in Aramaic texts meaning things like immersing or dipping. Any of them might possibly be translated as ‘baptism’.

      What you have asked me to do is to write a monograph as you should know, and I’m currently writing another monograph on chaotic hypotheses. The standard discussions of Mark’s Greek have long since set out what is peculiar about it by others eg V Taylor, ‘Mark’ pp. 47-50, 55-66. Casey gave examples of other peculiarities which can be explained as translations of Aramaic sources (e.g. pp. 185-6 on Mark 3.6). How much of Mark might have been translated from Aramaic we do not know, which is why Casey is still working on Mark and we believe that Chilton is too. The work on ‘Son of man’ is of obvious relevance at this point too.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-05-12 04:12:38 UTC - 04:12 | Permalink

    Neil,

    If you’re going to address dating of the Gospels perhaps you might take a look at this nice paper by Mark Goodacre: http://web.archive.org/web/20120818024311/http://www.markgoodacre.org/datinggame.pdf

    He’s critical of Crossley’s early dating, but he doesn’t even mention Dettering’s late dating (as you perhaps know this is almost always ignored). He doesn’t say much about Matthew and Luke, but I happen to know that he thinks Ignatius knows Matthew (and he goes with the traditional early 2nd century dating of Ignatius), but he doesn’t really seem to oppose a 2nd century date for Luke (unless he has changed his mind) and thinks Luke has used Josephus for his Acts.

  • 2010-05-16 02:01:32 UTC - 02:01 | Permalink

    My first degree was in education and music. Instead of teaching as I had trained, I worked in the theatre and filled in with menial desk jobs … and read alot. Returning to university at thirty I enrolled in another degree – undergraduate in History and Classics as well as religions (I was fascinated by religious diversity – what people believed and why and how they could believe what I could never believe – but knew bugger all about any of them, including Christianity except that Xtianity, Judaism and Islam believed in a ‘god’ and xtianity also believed in a ‘jesus’ – I’d never even considered whether he existed or not then) so at that stage I read the work of quite a few historians, including secular ones, and including both ancient historians such as Thucydides and modern ones such as Elton. The first supposedly serious scholarship about Jesus that I encountered was that of Burton Mack and the American Jesus Seminar. They made the story of Jesus seem like a fictional story, with most of the sayings attributed to him, and incidents about him, in the canonical Gospels, secondary. I was especially sort-of-impressed with the picture of him as a sort of cynic philosopher in “Q”, because that especially did not seem to fit in with his supposed background in first century Judaism which I was also studying in my Judaism courses run by Professor Morris an ‘orthodox’ Jew. Dom Crossan’s work seemed especially flawed, and quite unlike the work of responsible historians. My supervisor at this stage was Jim Veitch, a member of the Jesus Seminar. However, even at this stage, I was not a completely convinced myther, because they did not give sufficient reasons why the Gospel writers made everything up, nor could I see how their work could ever lead to an explanation of why Christianity started.

    I gradually changed my mind as I studied the synoptic Gospels more carefully, with more helpful and scholarly secondary literature and languages. This is how I gradually came to believe in the picture of the historical Jesus as a first century Galilean prophet, a picture which can be reconstructed from the synoptic Gospels, omitting midrashim such as the virgin birth, walking on the water and the rending of the Temple veil. At this stage I also saw through “Q”, which never existed, either as a single Greek document or in three layers, because all these were constructed by modern scholars. I also began to study the evidence that some parts of the synoptic Gospels, especially Mark, showed signs of being translated from Aramaic. This is how it came about that I eventually came 12,000 miles to do a doctorate on the Double Tradition with a supervisor who knows as much as is known about first century Aramaic and has worked on possible Aramaic sources of the synoptic Gospels. This is also how I came across the work of Roger Aus, who does not merely announce that the story of the rending of the veil is not literally true, but because of his profound and extensive study of Jewish culture and literature, has been able to explain why Jewish followers of Jesus, who believed e.g. that the stories of the last supper and the crucifixion were literally true, should add to them the story of the rending of the veil, while never believing that it was literally true. Meanwhile, mythers such as Doherty continue to produce work which demonstrates blinding ignorance of first century Judaism in general and Aramaic in particular, lack of detailed study of the synoptic Gospels, ignorance of the most complex secondary literature, and complete inability to explain anything much.
    Conclusion – I can no longer be a ‘myther’

  • 2010-05-16 09:43:44 UTC - 09:43 | Permalink

    I don’t understand. Thucydides and Elton have nothing to say about Jesus so I don’t see the relevance of these to your erstwhile “mythicist” view of Jesus. Burton Mack is not a mythicist. He accepts throughout his works the historical Jesus. Dom Crossan also rejects Jesus mythicism. Much of his efforts are to establish what the historial Jesus said and did. There is nothing in either of their works that even hints that Jesus was nonhistorical. Mythicist Earl Doherty has written a detailed critiques of major works by both Mack and Crossan. So I don’t understand why you say you were a mythicist. Anyone who reads Mack and Crossan must know that they believe in a historical Jesus and that a historical Jesus is somewhere there at the origin of Christianity.

    (The idea that certain gospel narratives were “made up” by the church, as you imply, is more from Bultmann — and Mack and Crossan regularly follow his steps. And Bultmann also denied he was a mythicist.)

    So I am still curious why you say you were a mythicist. (Myther, by the way, is actually a variant spelling of mither, a word you should look up in a dictionary some time.)

    ETA: Mack’s work is known for its portrayal of the historical Jesus as a cynic sage figure. Crossan’s is known for depicting Jesus as a Mediterranean peasant with anti-imperialist sentiments. Their works are arguments for a particular interpretation of a historical Jesus. They would be spinning in their study chairs if they thought anyone took their works as arguments for a mythical Jesus.

  • 2010-05-16 10:31:19 UTC - 10:31 | Permalink

    I never suggested Thucydides and Elton talked about Jesus or that we even mentioned ‘Jesus’ in the Classics and History Departments. I was giving you the context in which I began to study religions. I said the first supposedly serious Jesus scholarship I read was the likes of the American Jesus Seminar. That was the first stuff on Jesus at all. They produced a Jesus which seemed so unrealistic and didn’t fit the context of the time or culture and neither did it explain in any convincing way how Christianity happened. It made me doubt that there was even a historical figure at all. Until reading them I’d never considered the question of whether or not Jesus existed. I read authors both advocating and refuting the theory that Jesus was a myth around that time and later.

    • 2010-05-16 11:10:51 UTC - 11:10 | Permalink

      I would be surprised if many scholars think that the respective historical Jesus’s of Mack and Crossan are not at least consistent with social-economic-philosophical-cultural settings of first century Palestine: isn’t that the point of their works, to demonstrate this link? I’d be interested if you could point me to any critiques that demonstrate that their respective Jesus’s do not comport with the time and culture of first century Palestine.

      But the point is that they certainly do not even address the mythical Jesus arguments. I’ve never heard of any particular “theory” about a mythical Jesus and I don’t know of any “theory of a mythical Jesus.” Doherty, Price, Wells, Thompson, for example, cannot be said to share “a theory that Jesus was a myth”. Who did you read that refuted any of these?

      ETA: My point is that it may not be wise to think of arguments for a mythical Jesus as something you yourself once subscribed to. Neither Doherty, Price, Wells or Thompson, for example, presents a case for a mythical Jesus on the basis for which you say you came to doubt there was a historical Jesus.

      (Doesn’t the Jesus Seminar include several Australian and British scholars among other non-Americans — Britain, New Zealand, South Africa et al, including at least one doctor linked to the University of Sheffield?)

  • kilo papa
    2010-05-16 17:20:41 UTC - 17:20 | Permalink

    steph said, “omitting midrashim such as the virgin birth, walking on the water, and rending of the temple veil”

    If you eliminated all the the midrashim from the synoptic Gospels you’d be left with some pretty slim reading.

    • 2010-05-16 20:52:06 UTC - 20:52 | Permalink

      I don’t understand what Steph means by these as midrashim. Perhaps she can explain the term as she intends it to be understood. These are miracle stories, but there are historical Jesus scholars who would see more prosaic narratives of Jesus as midrash on Jewish Scripture stories. What Jewish scriptures would the virgin birth and the others be midrash on/into?

      You are right about the gospels being pretty slim reading if we do remove all the miraculous and (genuinely) midrash. As Thompson says in another context, attempting to historicize biblical stories only ends up destroying the stories we do have. It leaves us with nothing that would be likely to have ever inspired anyone to write the gospels we have.

  • 2010-05-17 02:09:37 UTC - 02:09 | Permalink

    I do not appreciate you misrepresenting me again. I did not express most of the opinions which you attribute to me, and consequently did not need elementary comments on what some scholars have written. I made a very basic attempt to explain how I began to come to the view of Second Temple Judaism which I now hold. I was taught by Professor Paul Morris, an “orthodox” Jew, in New Zealand 15 years ago when I read my second degree, and was impressed by books such as E.P.Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, pp.1-427, and Judaism Practice and Belief 63BCE-66CE. Morris, Sanders and others paid careful attention to Jewish primary sources for their understanding of ancient Judaism, and I appreciated that. This is why I came in due course to the conclusion that the Jesus of Crossan and the American Jesus Seminar does not fit into the Judaism of first century Galilee, and, given how much of the Gospel tradition they thought was secondary, I myself began to wonder whether Jesus was a genuine historical figure at all, before I had done enough serious study to come across mythicists, whose work was in any case not prominent at the time.

    It is the Judaism of first century Galilee into which their Jesus does not fit, and I don’t know why you expect me to supply the obvious bibliography for this, a lot of which I do not have to hand and would have to go to the library to check. This includes brief comments in standard works, e.g. by J.P.Meier, A Marginal Jew pp. 90-91 n.22, with bibliography including H.D.Betz, “Jesus and the Cynics: Survey and Analysis of a Hypothesis’, JR 74 (1994), pp. 453-75, and B.Witherington, Jesus the Sage, pp. 117-45, neither of which I have here to check: more incisive but still rather short comments in J.D.G.Dunn, Jesus Remembered, pp. 58-65, 298-302: and articles such as D.E.Aune, “Jesus and Cynics in First-Century Palestine: Some Critical Considerations”, in J.H.Charlesworth and L.L.Johns (eds), Hillel and Jesus, pp. 176-92. I also remember the following items as good, but I do not have them at hand to check: S. Freyne, “”Galilean Questions to Crossan’s Mediterranean Jesus”, in S.Freyne, Galilee and Gospel, pp.208-29; E.P.Sanders, “Jesus’ Galilee” in Fair Play…Essays in Honour of Heikki Raisanen (ed. Dunderberg et al), pp. 3-41: and the two monographs of Mark Chancey. This is only a sample of scholars critical of the work of Crossan and the American Jesus Seminar. Of course that seminar includes a few members from abroad: I did mention Jim Veitch, who supervised my work when I read my first degree. It is however a distinctively American organization, and some of its peculiar views cannot be understood without appreciating the extent to which it was formed in opposition to the American fundamentalism which some of its most important members had left, and which everyone over there has to cope with: Funk, its founder and first leader, and Mack, an early member who left because he found it not radical enough, had both been fundamentalist preachers. I have met no-one at meetings of the British New Testament Society who accepts its views. Taking account of this, as well as published work of which the above is a sample, it follows that criticism is widespread, and includes scholars who otherwise hold many different opinions. Like these scholars, I think that is because the American Jesus’ Seminar’s Jesus suits them, and does not fit with the primary sources. It is also to be distinguished from the British Jesus Seminar which is part of the BNTC and naturally scholars who attend this are not only British.

    By midrashim I mean stories deliberately made up, and inspired by scripture. I don’t know why you expect me to write you a long treatise on which passages, when full discussion is to be found in standard works of secondary literature. Some of them are so well known that they may easily be read in elementary introductions, such as E.D.Freed, The Stories of Jesus’ Birth. The best discussions I have seen are those of Roger Aus, who is exceptionally learned in Jewish source material.

    • 2010-05-17 06:59:42 UTC - 06:59 | Permalink

      If I misrepresent you then please tell me exactly how and where I misrepresented. Disagreement or expressing a contrary viewpoint is not misrepresentation. On the contrary, I think you misrepresent your position when you suggest you yourself were once toying with mythicism when it is clear that your stated reason for this have nothing in common with the researched and methodological mythicist arguments of Doherty, Price, Wells or Thompson.

      I did not ask for bibliography or treatises. It will be enough to supply just one detail in which either Crossan’s or Mack’s Jesus is inconsistent with the first century Palestinian cultural context. That’s all. Crossan and Mack go to great pains to argue that their Jesus reconstructions do fit that cultural context. Just give one detail in which they are wrong. That’s all I am asking.

      Ditto for just one detail to believe that an Aramaic source would give a stronger reason for believing in an historical Jesus.

      Ditto for just one simple reason to explain what is wrong with the basic methodology (the one simple methodology espoused by Hobsbawm, Thompson, Schwartz, Schweitzer, Davies) of deciding whether or not a narrative can be accepted as having a historical core.

      Ditto for just one simple reason for accepting that there is anything historical behind the gospels.

      As for midrashim, I simply asked you to explain why you call your three specific examples of miracle stories by this term. A simple sentence or two would do. Your definition is not what I have understood it to mean. But that’s okay — if I understand your particular meaning then I have a basis for communication without misunderstanding. (Is there any story in Mark that is not midrash?)

      I think you open yourself to misunderstanding when you write very emotively with sweeping statements. When I ask you to explain or disagree with such claims, you then complain I misrepresented you, but then change what you originally wrote to something quite different. For example, in your first comments you said Mack’s and Crossan’s Jesus’s did not fit the “culture” of the times, but now you are saying their Jesuses did not fit the “Judaism” of the times. Which one do you mean? The difference is very significant.

  • 2010-05-17 07:59:44 UTC - 07:59 | Permalink

    You did misrepresent me Neil. I am talking about my thinking nearly fifteen years ago Neil. I wasn’t aware of Drews and Wells at the time and Doherty Price and Thompson hadn’t written their books. We don’t need mythicists to give us cause to doubt a historical figure’s existence when we have got the American Jesus seminar in full flow. I didn’t say Thucidydes and Elton talked about Jesus. I didn’t say any of the Jesus Seminar said he was a myth. I merely concluded from their inadequate work and the concurrent studies I was doing in Judaism etc, that he might not have existed. The general questions you keep asking me, actually require a book each to explain. I can’t demonstrate the flaws in five separate author’s methodology in a short paragraph. It requires examples, arguments etc.

    It should be obvious that by the culture of Jesus’ time I meant his culture in first century Jewish Galilee. The fact that if he had lived in Gadara where the famous cynic philosopher Meleagar lived is irrelevant. None of the Jesus seminar suggest that he lived there.

    I keep referring you to several monographs which discuss the historicity of the gospels in detail. The main point is that the sources of the synoptic gospels only make sense in first century Judaism, not in the Hellenistic cults advocated by mythicists.

    There isn’t just one simple methodology of the scholars you cited. Your citation of selected sentences of these scholars (Thompson etc) as if they were scriptural, does not amount to a coherent methodology and the notion that they could all be refuted in a simple sentence is ridiculous.

    Jesus spoke Aramaic in first century Galilee and Aramaisms in narratives which fit there perfectly are reasons to consider the possibility that these narratives might have a historical basis. The work of numerous scholars from Meyer through Black onwards are required to demonstrate this.

    There is no evidence of any cynic philosophers in first century lower Galilee.

    Now I have to get back to my thesis properly because I am supposed to have completed a draft of the whole thing by September.

    • 2010-05-17 12:45:26 UTC - 12:45 | Permalink

      Steph wrote:

      You did misrepresent me Neil.

      I am sorry you think that, Steph. I do not think that expressing a different view of what someone says is misrepresentation. It is dialogue. I can understand why one side may cry “Foul, Misrepresentation” only if they are unable to justify their statements. But thankfully in the course of your latest reply you did indeed justify one of your statements, and I thank you for that.

      Steph, you wrote:

      I am talking about my thinking nearly fifteen years ago Neil. I wasn’t aware of Drews and Wells at the time and Doherty Price and Thompson hadn’t written their books. We don’t need mythicists to give us cause to doubt a historical figure’s existence when we have got the American Jesus seminar in full flow. I didn’t say Thucidydes and Elton talked about Jesus. I didn’t say any of the Jesus Seminar said he was a myth. I merely concluded from their inadequate work and the concurrent studies I was doing in Judaism etc, that he might not have existed.

      I acknowledge that and have never at any point denied any of this. I understand this is where you are coming from and what you have been saying. Pointing out my own view of this and what it means in relation to the current debate with mythicism is not misrepresenting you. I never at any point denied what you have said about your experiences. Difference of perspectives and understandings is not misrepresentation. You have made it clear that the extent of your mythicism was questioning the possibility of historicity of Jesus based on certain (inadequate) explanations from, for example, the likes of the Jesus Seminar.

      Steph wrote:

      The general questions you keep asking me, actually require a book each to explain. I can’t demonstrate the flaws in five separate author’s methodology in a short paragraph. It requires examples, arguments etc.

      I did not ask you to demonstrate the flaws in five separate authors’ methodology. I asked about a single point of logic and principle that can be and is expressed in a single sentence and that is common to all five. It is instructive to me that McGrath, Crossley, and yourself seem incapable of addressing it.

      Steph wrote:

      It should be obvious that by the culture of Jesus’ time I meant his culture in first century Jewish Galilee. The fact that if he had lived in Gadara where the famous cynic philosopher Meleagar lived is irrelevant. None of the Jesus seminar suggest that he lived there.

      I did understand that by culture of Jesus’ time that you meant “his culture in first century Jewish Galilee.” (But you changed that to “Judaism” in your next email and it was that apparent confusion that I was addressing.)

      But here I do thank you, Steph. You have here answered my simple direct question with a simple direct answer. I understand that you are saying Mack, for example, is wrong to say Jesus was like a Cynic sage because such a role was not to be found in “first century Jewish Galilee”. The example he gives of Gadara is irrelevant because it is not in Galilee where Jesus lived.

      That’s all I asking. You have made a point to justify your statement. Thankyou. I can understand where you are coming from a little bettter now.

      Steph wrote:

      I keep referring you to several monographs which discuss the historicity of the gospels in detail. The main point is that the sources of the synoptic gospels only make sense in first century Judaism, not in the Hellenistic cults advocated by mythicists.

      Presumably you are referring here to Aramaic sources for Mark?

      Are you aware that mythicists like Doherty and Wells also use first century Judaism to explain “the Jesus myth” and not only Hellenistic cult sources?

      Steph wrote:

      There isn’t just one simple methodology of the scholars you cited. Your citation of selected sentences of these scholars (Thompson etc) as if they were scriptural, does not amount to a coherent methodology and the notion that they could all be refuted in a simple sentence is ridiculous.

      You seem not to have understood my question. I was referring to a single simple key point they all have in common. The point is a simple sentence and it can surely be addressed in just a few sentences and no more.

      I will not repeat it here — I have repeated it so many time already — since you really do not have time to answer it. I can understand that.

      Steph wrote:

      Jesus spoke Aramaic in first century Galilee and Aramaisms in narratives which fit there perfectly are reasons to consider the possibility that these narratives might have a historical basis. The work of numerous scholars from Meyer through Black onwards are required to demonstrate this.

      I agree with you that setting and language can be grounds for considering whether or not it is possible that a narrative has an historical basis. No-one denies that. I have addressed several major scholars’ arguments for historicity and demonstrated that they begin with the assumption of historicity.

      Steph wrote:

      Now I have to get back to my thesis properly because I am supposed to have completed a draft of the whole thing by September.

      I sincerely wish you success with it.

      • Steven Carr
        2010-05-17 13:53:52 UTC - 13:53 | Permalink

        STEPH
        Jesus spoke Aramaic in first century Galilee and Aramaisms in narratives which fit there perfectly are reasons to consider the possibility that these narratives might have a historical basis.

        CARR
        The Hitler Diaries were in German.

        Didn’t Hitler speak German?

        Why does anybody ever question their authenticity? Hitler spoke German, for goodness sakes, and the Hitler Diaries are in German.

        Case closed.

  • Bill Warrant
    2010-05-17 17:40:56 UTC - 17:40 | Permalink

    I used to favor a Jesus Seminar Jesus before the implications of the NT epistles struck me. Now that I think I understand the role of the destruction of the Temple on the origin of Christianity (the sacrifice of Jesus replacing the Temple sacrifices) it will take a lot for me to accept a historical Jesus.

  • 2010-05-18 04:17:00 UTC - 04:17 | Permalink

    I do not mind you disagreeing with me, but you continue to attribute to me opinions significantly different from the ones I express. You do the same to other people, often for example accusing people of having assumptions when you do not agree with their reasons. For example “You, for example, said that Hobsbawm’s quote was irrelevant because the gospels are not about bandits etc.” The point is that, not only are the Gospels not about bandits, except for Pilate’s reasons for crucifying three men, but the stories in them are so different from the stories that Hobsbawm was discussing that to quote him as if he were sacred scripture and then complain that New Testament scholars do not treat most Gospel stories in the same way is not to compare like with like. Morever, you often misrepresent other scholars simply to pour scorn on them. For example, “In other words, Paula Fredriksen is but one of a host of biblical “historians” who “do history” according to the analogy of the silly detectives in my earlier post.” She does not do history according to your analogy of the ‘silly detectives’, and to say the least, these are your words, not hers. How much truth there is in your other criticisms of her is of course another matter.

    You say, “I did not ask you to demonstrate the flaws in five separate authors’ methodology. I asked about a single point of logic and principle that can be and is expressed in a single sentence and that is common to all five. It is instructive to me that McGrath, Crossley, and yourself seem incapable of addressing it.” This misses the point completely. Your bossy demands that people express complex things by presenting you with one sentence is completely unrealistic, which is why scholars such as McGrath and Crossley do not comply with your bossy demands either. The most one can do in single sentences is to make simple points, as I did for example when I pointed out that good historians start with the primary sources, whereas mythicists seek to discount them, as do postmodernists of various kinds. One of the many ways in which some of them do so is to posit interpolations all over the place, as for example Zindler does, when he proposes that Mark 1.2-14a is an interpolation into the Gospel of Mark (The Jesus the Jews Never Knew pp.89-91). Moreover, I have pointed out to you before that they date the Gospels far too late without sufficient reason. What is wrong with the mythicists is not “a single point of logic and principle that can be and is expressed in a single sentence and that is common to all five”, which is why scholars will not give you a one-sentence answer to your question. It is highly regrettable that mythicist views are now becoming so common that they need a book to provide a complete refutation of them, and this will obviously take some time to provide. Probably not til the end of 2012.

    If I hadn’t done my second undergraduate degree in other religions, classics and history and done further research in the light of this, I doubt I’d be convinced in a historical figure of Jesus.

    • Bill Warrant
      2010-05-18 18:10:30 UTC - 18:10 | Permalink

      Mythicists date the Gospels far too late with insufficient reason? I think it’s pretty clear they are all post-70, the only question is how much later are they? Since the Jesus tradition probably had not yet emerged when most of the epistles were written I think first half of the second century is the best bet. This also fits what we find in the apostolic fathers. It also fits with the influence texts like James, 1 Peter and 4 Ezra have had on the Synoptic Gospels and 1 John on the Gospel of John. I’m a little sceptical of Detering’s post-135 dating of the gospels, because this doesn’t appear to leave enough time for the widespread influence of these texts around the mid-second century. I don’t know if you’ve read Price’s ante-Nicene New Testament (probably not I suppose), but it seems to me that Price does try to date everything as late as possible. I have my doubts about many of his dates. I consider Tacitus the earliest external evidence of historicizing Jesus.

      I do think we need to be careful with interpolations, although it is pretty clear they are there. Identifying them is not easy (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is one of the more obvious ones; 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is also a good candidate).

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-05-18 21:04:19 UTC - 21:04 | Permalink

    Neil,
    good to see that you have finally started wrestling with Casey and Crossley. But I feel less happy with the way you tackle their arguments. There is much to criticize in the works of C & C, but to do like Neil and sarcastically dismiss a couple of examples and thereby believe that one can safely throw all the arguments of C & C to the trashcan won´t earn many points among real scholars. But sure as amen in church it will keep folks like Steven Carr and Bill Warrant happy.
    And poor Steph. Personally I think it is a waste of time but at least she stands for a very lone voice of reason among so much unreason.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-05-19 04:33:15 UTC - 04:33 | Permalink

      So Antonio cannot defend the arguments of Casey and Crossley, and is reduced to whining about the tone of voice they are addressed in.

      If only somebody could be found who could actually explain what arguments make sense.

      But where can such a person be found?

    • 2010-05-20 13:16:04 UTC - 13:16 | Permalink

      Is there any particular argument of either Casey or Crossley you would care to defend — or simply explain?

      Do you really think I “merely sarcastically dismissed a couple of examples and thereby throw out all the arguments”? I thought I addressed a particular argument with a serious counter argument. Did I not?

      If I have failed to address what you see as the strong points of C’s argument, then do point them out. If you can find any other argument in C or C that is stronger, then single it out.

      I once showed to Steph the circularity of C’s arguments, and her response was that I had oversimplified the points. But just about every one of C’s points is based on the same circularity.

      Crossley himself accused me of “spectacularly misrepresenting” him, but did not stay around to justify that accusation of my arguments. I would really appreciate a serious response to what I write so the points of C and C can be directly engaged.

      I have attempted to engage one point here, and it is dismissed as sarcastic.

      As for your “real scholars”, I’d be interested in knowing how many, in any of their published reviews of their works, have indicated they have been persuaded by C or C.

      I did quote a few remarks by at least two “real scholars” reviewing one of Casey’s works: — http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/a-most-improbable-history-of-christian-origins/#comment-8532

      Do other “real scholars” complain how sarcastic and dismissive these reviewers are?

    • 2010-05-20 13:29:56 UTC - 13:29 | Permalink

      You did not comment on http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/why-christianity-happened-reviewing-chapter-2-of-james-crossleys-book/ — I think Steph kind of thought this was a fair and reasonable review of a Crossley argument until I told her that Crossley himself called it “bloody weird” or something, then I got lots of criticisms from Steph, too. Maybe you can have a look at it with an unbiased eye and let me know if Steph’s first impressions were right or not.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-05-19 04:36:21 UTC - 04:36 | Permalink

    Oh I forgot, Antonio played the Real Scholars card. You don’t have to defend anything , provided you say that it comes from Real Scholars.

    It makes ignoring Neil’s devastating analysis very easy. Just say ‘Real Scholars’ very loudly and you can drown out anybody you don’t like listening to.

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  • 2010-05-21 04:26:20 UTC - 04:26 | Permalink

    You have again completely misrepresented what I wrote. In the first place, I said that “I particularly appreciated some aspects of your critique of his hypothesis that some aspects of Jesus’ ministry and teaching may be explained from socioeconomic conditions in Galilee at the time of Jesus. I am not convinced of that either.” I stand by that. In the same post, however, before you had responded, I made other criticisms of you, such as that “This however makes all the more nonsense of your comment that ‘Casey and Crossley demonstrate no more awareness of historical methodology than any of their American counterparts.’ You recognize in your critique that Crossley is perfectly well aware of such matters.” I did not say that I “kind of thought this was a fair and reasonable review of a Crossley argument” at any stage, and did not wait until you told me that “Crossley himself called it “bloody weird” or something” before pointing out how comprehensively you misrepresent both of them.

    It is entirely reasonable of Antonio to speak of “real scholars”, presumably meaning people who have sound academic qualifications such as doctorates awarded by decent universities who always employ external examiners, who are appointed to academic posts for which open competition is settled by academic merit, and who in due course receive research awards from independent bodies such as the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust. They write books published by reputable publishers, in which they put forward arguments in the light of the primary sources and secondary literature, and, while critical of alternative interpretations, do not misrepresent people with whom they disagree or pour scorn on them. Your quotation of critical reviews of Casey’s work is really scraping the barrel. You take one critical comment by Chilton in a partly favourable review quite out of context. You omit all favourable comments, and ignore the fact that all his most critical comments, such as Casey’s supposed “jejeune assertion to the effect that Jesus was literate in Hebrew” are due to his putting forward perfectly reasonable arguments for disagreeing with Chilton. As Richard Evans put it, in his outstanding book In Defence of History, commenting on academic reviews in general, “Some of them – whether motivated by malice, carelessness or simple stupidity on the part of the reviewer – are only remotely related to the interpretation intended by the author” (p.103). You then refer to a hopelessly biased review by Nina Collins, an orthodox Jewish pupil of Hyam Maccoby, now Lecturer in Modern and Classical Hebrew in the Language Center at the University of Leeds, who is neither an Aramaic nor a New Testament scholar.

    You ignore favourable reviews, such as those by the Aramaist Michael Wise, whose detailed critique includes this main point: “…argues…Mark used written Aramaic sources in preparing his Gospel. These sources can be recovered and subjected to exegesis and historical analysis…No historian can neglect this approach, Casey urges, and he makes his case very convincingly” (Journal of Near Eastern Studies, I don’t have the precise reference here). You also omit favourable reviews by New Testament scholars such as Nick Taylor (Pretoria) commenting in Neotestamentica on Casey’s 1998 and 2002 monographs, “These two volumes represent what is probably the most significant contribution in English to the study of the Aramaic background since Matthew Black’s…”, and Muller (Copenhagen) in Dansk Teologisk Tidsskrift. I do not see why you should demand that other people tell you about positive use of the work of Casey and Crossley, a demand which reflects your limited learning. As Antonio seems to have noticed, you are not a “real scholar”, as defined above.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-05-21 14:27:57 UTC - 14:27 | Permalink

      ‘STEPH
      It is entirely reasonable of Antonio to speak of “real scholars”, presumably meaning people who have sound academic qualifications such as doctorates awarded by decent universities who always employ external examiners, who are appointed to academic posts for which open competition is settled by academic merit, and who in due course receive research awards from independent bodies such as the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust.

      CARR
      Steph praises ‘real scholars’ and then lambasts ‘Lecturer in Modern and Classical Hebrew in the Language Center at the University of Leeds’ as ‘hopelessly biased’

      Double standards?

      Perhaps some Real Scholars are not True Real Scholars.

      Notice that Steph still cannot bring herself to defend one word of Crossley’s arguments!

      Her claim is only that they were written by True Real Scholars, and people who are criticial of them are not True Real Scholars but only False Real Scholars or amateurs.

      ‘These sources can be recovered and subjected to exegesis and historical analysis…’

      Only in the world of fantasy of True Real Scholars, who have supernatural powers enabling them to read documents that nobody has ever seen, heard of, or read about in an ancient source as having existed.’

      And, of course, these True Real Scholars are applying a method as valid as claiming that the Hitler Diaries must be authentic as they are in German.

      If there is a residual smell of Aramaic, it is authentic.

      • 2010-05-21 21:07:28 UTC - 21:07 | Permalink

        Don’t forget that it was the True Real Historian Scholar Hugh Trevor Roper who “confirmed” for the whole world that the Hitler Diaries were indeed the true real genuine thing.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler_Diaries
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Trevor-Roper#His_role_in_the_.22Hitler_Diaries.22_hoax

      • 2010-05-22 03:13:18 UTC - 03:13 | Permalink

        You have completely missed the point of my first comment on ‘real scholars’. This was a minimal definition of necessary qualifications, not a guarantee that real scholars get everything right, which they obviously don’t, even nowadays when even posh Oxbridge scholars have to go through the rigorous discipline of a British Ph.D., which Trevor-Roper did not. He made the most conspicuous mistake of any reasonably qualified modern scholar when, as a secular historian aged 69, he wrongly accepted assertions of previous tests from Stern and did not examine them properly before accepting these assertions. Whether a rigorous modern training would have prevented this, and his other faults, I have no idea. After all, Price is supposed to have respectable qualifications too, though they are American ones.

    • 2010-05-21 21:26:38 UTC - 21:26 | Permalink

      Steph, you are finally starting to attempt to support your statements and I thank you for that. This is what I have been asking for from the beginning.

      But I am still confused by a few points. One of these is where you say that I “demand that other people tell you [me] about positive use of the work of Casey and Crossley”

      How do you come to interpret my actual words into such a “demand” etc. My actual words were, you will recall: “I’d be interested to know who cites their works.” (And you are the one accusing ME of “misrepresentation”?)

      You said that my “demand” (but you will have to cite where I did “demand” — I can only recall saying “I’d be interested to know”) “reflects your [my] limited learning.” Yes it does indeed! My learning is very limited. I am sure I have not read nearly as many books as Crossley or Casey or yourself by the time you complete your doctorate. So I have to ask: Is there anything wrong with me, an amateur, requesting evidence from the more learned than I? I really would be interested in the evidence.

      ETA:

      I find it difficult to imagine a biologist or psychologist or ‘real’ historian declining a request for evidence. It seems the preserve of quite a number of “biblical scholars”, however, to respond to radical questions with scorn, insult, or the deaf ear.

      I am still waiting to hear from you, Crossley or now Antonio where exactly I have misrepresented any of the arguments of Crossley — in particular in my review of his chapter 2 of his book and which Crossley said was “bloody weird”. Please can anyone inform me what, exactly, I have got wrong or misunderstood or misrepresented? Till I hear the evidence I will dismiss any sweeping criticism as groundless, and declare Crossley’s arguments groundless, and in some instances even outright dishonest or unprofessionally careless.

      • 2010-05-22 03:17:53 UTC - 03:17 | Permalink

        I have supported my arguments and tediously provided you with references to scholarship which you mostly neglect to do yourself. This is the standard scholarly way of supporting arguments which need lengthy support, which cannot be given in single sentences. The online free dictionary definitions of ‘demand’ included 1. ‘To ask for urgently or peremptorily’, 2. ‘To ask to be informed of’ and 3. ‘To require as useful, just, proper, or necessary; call for’ . I think that makes it clear that I was accurate in ‘interpreting’ your words.

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  • J. Watson
    2015-04-29 20:34:26 UTC - 20:34 | Permalink

    i did not at all understand at all your “argument” about a gospel tried to explain the eating of “grain” (maize, your picture presupposes) by “rubbing in their hands” to make it “soft.” From your presupposition of dried maize, yes, perhaps. But have you never gone into a maize field and eaten warm green corn. Presuppositions author any writing read and any reading written.

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