2010-06-16

Christ Myth and Holocaust Denial

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by Neil Godfrey

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The comparison of Christ Mythicism with Holocaust denial is flippant and derisive (or maybe sometimes ignorant). So nothing I post here will deepen the thoughts of those who make the comparison.

But I also think it is not a bad idea to have some attempt on record — however brief — a simple exposure of the fallacy of this analogy.

From Wikiquote:

The very logic that tells us there was no Jesus is the same logic that pleads that there was no Holocaust. (Nicholas Perrin)

Most scholars regard the arguments for Jesus’ non-existence as unworthy of any response—on a par with claims that the Jewish Holocaust never occurred or that the Apollo moon landing took place in a Hollywood studio. (Michael James McClymond)

One has to look at historical evidence. And if you… If you say that historical evidence doesn’t count, then I think you get into huge trouble. Because then, how do… I mean… then why not just deny the Holocaust? (Bart Ehrman)

The denial that Christ was crucified is like the denial of the Holocaust. (John Piper)

And Richard Bauckham even uses the Holocaust to indirectly prove by inverted analogy the “historical truth” of the resurrection! (Bauckham 18d and 18g)

I personally think there is something obscene about biblical scholars using the Holocaust to leverage their intellectual positions. I can’t imagine being completely relaxed about it if the Holocaust had immediate personal associations in my own life.

The comparison of Christ Mythicism with Holocaust denial is flippant and derisive (or maybe simply ignorant in some cases). So nothing I post here will deepen the thoughts of those who make the comparison.

But I also think it is not a bad idea to have some attempt on record — however brief — a simple exposure of the fallacy of this analogy.

(Another common analogy is to insist rhetorically that there is as much or more evidence for the historical existence of Jesus as there is for Julius Caesar or other ancient figures. I have dealt with that argument several times now, most recently here. Those who say this might be absent mindedly flippant or simply ignorant.)

Deniers answered by the Big E

Deniers of the Holocaust have questioned details of the evidence advanced for it. Yes, there were executions of Jews, communists, homosexuals, Romany and others, but nowhere near the scale as has been widely claimed (6 million Jews). And there is no evidence of any order from Hitler for their extermination. These sorts of claims have been answered publicly many times.  See, for example:

From Wikipedia’s Holocaust Denial article: Reports on and criticisms of Holocaust denial

The contrasting nature of evidence in Historical Jesus studies

One historical Jesus scholar, say Sanders, declares it a bedrock historical fact that Jesus “did something” in the Temple that became known as the “cleansing of the temple” in the Gospels. Another historical Jesus scholar, say Paula Fredriksen, declares that the evidence is against this being a historical fact at all. Scot McKnight has pointed out that the so-called “facts” of historical Jesus studies are not inferred from evidence, but from “criteria”. So the criterion of embarrassment says that a narrative detail (e.g. the disciples deserting Jesus in Gethsemane) that is embarrassing to later devotees of Jesus is likely to be true, because it was not in the interests of those followers to record it; while the criterion that an event that is declared to be a fulfilment of prophecy (e.g. the disciples deserting Jesus in Gethsemane) is likely to have been invented simply to “prove” the fulfilment of a prophecy.

Frederiksen has said that we have two incontrovertible facts about Jesus: that he was crucified by Pilate and that his disciples were not so crucified. Yet when one looks for the grounds for these “facts” one finds nothing more than a single Gospel (that of Mark) as their source. The others — even John according to some scholars — copied and adapted Mark’s story. And what is the evidence for the historicity of Mark’s gospel? Christ Myth denier and Historical Jesus advocate Albert Schweitzer himself admitted that there is NO reliable evidence surviving that corroborates the historicity of the narrative events of the Gospel. The “incontrovertibility” of these facts is even further undermined when one realizes Fredriksen fails to address the fact that outside the canonical Gospel tradition there were other very early views that Jesus was crucified by Herod, not Pilate, or that he was crucified under Claudius, and not Tiberius. And the dogmatism underlying the assumptions of the modern Quest for the Historical Jesus has been interpreted by Dieter Georgi as a survival reaction on the part of “bourgeois” Jesus historicism from the crises at the turn of the twentieth century.

So Christ Mythicists do not have to cynically or hypersceptically doubt one set of evidence that is available. They merely have to point to the absence of corroboration for what is, at origin, a single narrative, and one whose details were not uniformly accepted for quite some generations subsequent to the time it appears to have been written.

While quite a few scholars have been offended by the notion that people might take seriously the Christ Myth theory, I know of no online website that answers their claims with evidence that might in any way be compared with the above sites answering the claims of the Holocaust deniers. This seems a curious lack.

One can also find websites easily enough that with dot point after factual dot point of hard evidence refute the arguments of the Moon Landing deniers. Just type the words moon landing hoax in Google to see them all.

And I have several excellent books with me by reputable scientists who found the time and patience to clearly lay out in layman’s language the facts of the evidence for evolution, and that answer the arguments of Creationists with clear, logical argument and details of very specific evidence.

It is instructive that by contrast Joseph R. Hoffmann has recently had a 1920s! book by Goguel republished to “answer” the Christ Myth arguments. This is a most curious exercise given the failure, as far as I am aware, of anyone to challenge Earl Doherty’s  demolitions of Goguel’s arguments.

[Since writing this, Hoffmann has notified me that what I wrote here misrepresents the reason for his having Goguel reprinted. See his comment here. I have addressed Hoffmann’s misrepresentation of Doherty’s work so I can plead no excuse for any misrepresention myself.]

Meanwhile, a couple of erstwhile commenters to posts on this blog “promised” a number of times that Maurice Casey is expected to publish a rebuttal of the Christ Myth idea in a couple of years from now. These “warnings” seem poor substitutes for arguments that one might have thought would be timely enough to be advanced right now.

Conspiracies?

Holocaust deniers often claim there has been conspiracy on the part of the War victorious powers to concoct evidence for the Holocaust. For all the efforts of those Historical Jesus scholars who also accuse Jesus mythicists of conspiracy theories, I know of none. Certainly none by Doherty, Price, Thompson, Wells, Drews.

Historical Jesus scholars deluding and flattering their enterprise

In sum, when historical Jesus scholars flippantly dismiss Jesus mythicism as comparable to Holocaust denial, they are deluding themselves over the real nature of the evidence they deal with. Holocaust evidence is tangible, real, palpable, readable, touchable, visible, audible, testable even in court. It is primary, abundant, corroborated a thousand times over. It is readily and freely publicly accessible.

Historical Jesus evidence is inferential — not inferred from facts, but inferred from arguments over criteria applied to narrative details that are nowhere corroborated. Corroboration means more than simple multiple attestation. Multiple attestation may (and in historical Jesus studies often does) mean nothing more than multiple repeating of something — like multiple testimonies of alien abductions. Multiple attestation only carries weight when it can be established that the different witnesses are truly independent.

Historical Jesus scholars know all of this. They know the weaknesses of the evidence at hand. But they also immerse themselves in it as their livelihood. Their scholarly reputations are reliant upon it. So it is easy to slip into denial of the reality of what they do work with.

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46 Comments

  • mcduff
    2010-06-16 01:38:23 UTC - 01:38 | Permalink

    “The comparison of Christ Mythicism with Holocaust denial is flippant and derisive (or maybe sometimes ignorant).”

    And offensive, virtually an accusation, unfounded, of anti-semitic racism.
    Really irritates me.

    I’m mildly surprised to see Nicholas Perrin’s comment.
    I have “Understanding Q”, which he co-authored, and I would have hoped his Q scepticism there may have reflected an evidence based wider analysis.
    He titles his chapter there “Reasons for Questioning Q” but it appears he is unable, or unwilling, to contemplate that there are valid reasons for questioning an historical JC.
    It seems that when push comes to shove some cannot overcome their fundamental beliefs and have to resort to insults and hyperbole when the core of their belief is threatened.
    Fear, perhaps?

    • 2010-06-16 07:47:27 UTC - 07:47 | Permalink

      It is offensive. Holocaust denial often implies that one is deliberately ignoring plain evidence, or seeking to quibble over a few perceived weaknesses in a few isolated strands among masses of overwhelming evidence, because one is motivated by a hostile bigotry, in this case racism.

      I did not address that side of the accusation in the post because I don’t see that Holocaust denial per se is necessarily racist. One can, as has been well enough pointed out by others, deny it over a naive inability to believe that people are capable of such inhumanity. Maybe something about this nature of the insult should have been addressed.

      Now I’ve written down my first thoughts, I may pick up more ideas as I think it through some more and read comments, and write up a more cogent post some time in the future.

    • GakuseiDon
      2010-06-16 12:02:42 UTC - 12:02 | Permalink

      I did not address that side of the accusation in the post because I don’t see that Holocaust denial per se is necessarily racist. One can, as has been well enough pointed out by others, deny it over a naive inability to believe that people are capable of such inhumanity.

      Isn’t this along the lines of John Piper’s point in his article? Here is the quote you produced from Piper, with a little more surrounding text:

      “It is a tragedy that the story of Christ’s Passion (his suffering and death) has produced anti-Semitism against Jews and crusading violence against Muslims. We Christians are ashamed of many of our ancestors who did not act in the spirit of Christ…

      The denial that Christ was crucified is like the denial of the holocaust. For some it’s simply too horrific to affirm. For others it’s an elaborate conspiracy to coerce religious sympathy. But the deniers live in a historical dream-world. Jesus Christ suffered unspeakably and died. So did Jews.

      I am not the first to link Calvary and the concentration camps—the suffering of Jesus Christ and the suffering of Jewish people.”

      The above from here: ….www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-passion-of-jesus-christ-and-the-passion-of-auschwitz [Link inactive, 19th August 2015– Neil. Try http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-passion-of-jesus-christ-and-the-passion-of-auschwitz]

      He’s not addressing vs mythicism here, as far as I can see.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-06-16 01:45:11 UTC - 01:45 | Permalink

    Holocaust Denial would be a lot more popular if we had writings by Jews claiming that the Nazis ‘hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.’ and that they were ‘…God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’

    And if not one single Jew in the 20th century had ever written a document naming himself as ever having heard of Auschwitz, Belsen, Dachau or Himmler.

  • mcduff
    2010-06-16 02:45:42 UTC - 02:45 | Permalink

    I really don’t think we [as in those that question the historicity of JC] need to stoop so low as to even begin to defend the unwarranted and offensive accusation that mythicism = holocaust denial.

    The charge is a straw man and should be simply ignored.

    It diverts attention away from the closed mindedness of those that refuse, by the use of this diversionary tactic that completely fails to address the real issue, which is to face the need to present incontrovertible evidence for the historicity, or otherwise, of JC.
    If the alleged historicity is so bleedin’ obvious then it should be easy for the historicists to present their case.
    And the consideration of that case is the only relevant issue.

    • pearl
      2010-06-16 05:27:50 UTC - 05:27 | Permalink

      Oh, but were that the only relevant issue, mcduff. You earlier brought up the significant issue of core beliefs. I’m no psychologist, but from what I read and personal experience, I would imagine that many or most people, not just some, “cannot “ or choose not to “overcome their fundamental beliefs.” Core beliefs are strong, entrenched, and developed over a long period of time, often from childhood.

      The subject Neil keeps revisiting about Jesus’s historicity as fact is a deep-rooted cultural belief, regardless of religiosity. Depending on degree of importance to an individual and/or their worldview or circumstances, one might expect varying degrees and types of reaction,… cognitive dissonance, rationalization, anger, derision, etc.

      But not all is lost. On an individual basis, people can decide to identify personal core beliefs, if they want to, for whatever reasons, and proceed to challenge them. Neil might not be getting the answers he asks for (although, apparently they should be forthcoming in book form in a couple years), but he is providing a different perspective for consideration, for readers all over the world, that cannot be quashed entirely by those opposed to his reasonable questions, especially if he takes time to occasionally address their diversionary tactics.

    • 2010-06-16 08:02:40 UTC - 08:02 | Permalink

      I understand ignoring the insult. It is what I have tended to do, in preference for focusing on the evidence of the argument itself. But I also think it’s not bad to have on record some reference to both the fallacious nature of the comparison and the ad hominem intent of it. I had no idea the comparison was so pervasive until relatively recently. One often hears the charge that there is more or as much evidence for Jesus as for Julius Caesar, etc. These charges are based on complete ignorance of the evidence. If there is ignorance of any kind, it is not a bad thing to have on record some clear answer to it. Not that those who are motivated by unscholarly impulses will take any notice of it. It’s not for them. (It’s a bit like my comments here that have sometimes replied to the provocations of the likes of McGrath. I am not interested or thinking of attempting to persuade him: my exchanges are for certain other audiences who might be reading them.)

  • 2010-06-16 02:55:16 UTC - 02:55 | Permalink

    “For all the efforts of those Historical Jesus scholars who also accuse Jesus mythicists of conspiracy theories, I know of none.”

    That’s true. There are no conspiracy theories regarding the hiding, tampering, or forging of evidence that are unique to the mythicists.

    However, the one real conspiracy within NT scholarship that we’re all aware of is the Testamonium Flavianum. I don’t know anyone, even the most fervent apologist, who thinks the quote we now see in Josephus’ Antiquities is pristine. Clearly, some early Christian (probably Eusebius) forged all or parts of it. Some Christians at some point in history decided it would be nice if Josephus had said something really nice about Jesus. And they conspired to forge the evidence.

    The only question would be, “Is there anything recoverable within the Testamonium?” I think an honest historian would conclude we don’t know and probably never will know. We can conclude nothing about was deleted, modified, interpolated, folded, spindled, or mutilated. Simply stripping away the impossible parts and trusting what’s left is dishonest. Once again, it’s giving privilege to plausibility. We know it has not come down to us in the original form. There is no magic formula for restoring the original.

    At this point, the typical NT scholar will stamp his or her little feet and tell us we’re being too skeptical. They’ll tell us that our minimalist criteria are too strict. We need to find criteria that will provide results! No, I’m sorry, but that isn’t how it works. We don’t get to pick our tools based on the outcome. If we apply honest historical criteria to the gospels and come up with no reliable historical evidence, it doesn’t mean we need to find another set of tools. It means we need to reassess what we can say about the Historical Jesus.

    Regarding the Holocaust denial accusations. I know it’s a cliche, but this is just like the old Superman TV series. The villains start pumping lead at the Man of Steel, only to see the bullets bounce off his chest. When the guns are empty (click-click-click) they throw them at Superman. Why does George Reeves duck? Anyhow, this is what the NT scholars are stuck with. They have no arguments, so they’re stuck with mock outrage.

    And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Neil. When Holocaust-deniers spout their foolishness, they’re countered with real evidence. But when mythicits put forth their ideas, they’re simply compared to Holocaust-deniers. It’s is not an argument; it is slander in place of reasoned response.

    • maryhelena
      2010-06-18 02:34:37 UTC - 02:34 | Permalink

      “We need different terminology for the early Christian formula of combining disparate doctrines, making the new hybrid the orthodox position, and relegating the two parent doctrines to the heretical bone pile.”

      ‘different terminology’ – all you need is to find that magic wand 😉

  • mcduff
    2010-06-16 03:12:53 UTC - 03:12 | Permalink

    Ken Olsen has a blog “Kamoi”.
    Here:
    http://kaimoi.blogspot.com/

    On that site he has 2 interesting articles.
    Firstly his views on “How Luke was Written”, scroll down a couple of items to find it.
    Fascinating article, I highly recommend it.

    More relevantly to the topic of the Test. Flav. is his article a bit further down on his hypothesis that the TF was forged by Eusebius.
    He makes a powerful case.

  • 2010-06-16 06:35:33 UTC - 06:35 | Permalink

    “Multiple attestation only carries weight when it can be established that the different witnesses are truly independent.”

    I’m recalling what Frederiksen said about multiple attestation proving antiquity, not authenticity. (This, of course, was just before she retreated to the safe and “solid” remaining pillars of E.P. Sanders.) It could merely prove that more than one Christian community believed the same thing. It doesn’t make that thing true.

    Lately I’ve been reading through Crossan’s Who Killed Jesus? and while I might not go so far as to buy the whole “Cross Gospel” theory, I think he makes a strong case that the writers of John, Matthew, and Luke were aware of the story of the crucifixion in Mark (or perhaps Peter). If he’s right — and it would seem to be the simplest explanation for the state of the texts as we have them — then there is only one source for the death of Jesus.

    Do you ever wonder whether NT scholars hold onto the beliefs in Q and the independence of John largely because they desperately want multiple sources? Dale Martin says that the sign over the cross (INRI) is historical because it doesn’t fit with early titles for Jesus (dissimilarity) and because of multiple attestation. In one of his lectures (available in video or audio format on the Yale web site) he says he believes that John is independent, but (as always) the argument is too long and complex to explain it. I’m sure there’s “good reason” to believe him, though.

    Mark Goodacre dispenses with Q, but doesn’t abandon the independence of John. I’m guessing he never will, because that would mean all the canonical narrative threads start with Mark, or at least have been influenced by Mark. Now I realize one could argue that “Markan Priority without Q” could imply a secondary narrative source that Matthew worked from, but this is a real problem. For if the criterion of multiple attestation is thrown into doubt, then the other criteria that depend on it will become useless.

    Don’t misread my comments as an accusation. Heaven knows I’m in no position to judge why somebody believes something. They might be right. They might be sincere. Or they might be deluding themselves. It’s tough to tell for sure when they so often fall back on “scholarly consensus” and the claim that the “mountain of evidence” is too complicated for us amateurs to understand. Funny, I think the Theory of General Relativity is far more complicated than any topic in NT studies, and yet I’ll bet a lot of “hobby-horse” physicists could explain the basic ideas in a few paragraphs.

    • maryhelena
      2010-06-16 17:54:18 UTC - 17:54 | Permalink

      “Multiple attestation only carries weight when it can be established that the different witnesses are truly independent.”

      Agreed. And, of course, with the gospel writers, we don’t have the answer to this question of independence.

      Hoffmann, a while back, had an interesting article re gospel writing.

      http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/are-the-synoptic-gospels-copy-exercises-jesus-and-anacreon/

      “For all we know one such copyist may have been named Mark and another Luke. But if that is so, it is only accidentally so and they were men of no significant personal distinction. They were men who took it upon themselves to imitate, “restore” or amend the lost (or nearly lost) prototype, the master-copy of the Jesus story.”.

      I found that intriguing – “the master copy of the Jesus story”. Particularly so, as a mythicist. Because if there was no historical Jesus that allows for multiple witnesses, however different in some instances – then the Jesus storyline could well be the creative work of one person’s intellect. I find it difficult to imagine a committee came up with, agreed with, the Jesus story. We are used to the idea that creativity is not mass produced, not the result of a group think. Sure, once a character or storyline has been created, others can use that framework and develop it. (without modern day copyright – Harry Potter’s creator would be without her fortune!)

      As Hoffmann has suggested in the above article.

      Hoffmann: “I find it more probable that we possess four of the exercises, and that these exercises have to be submitted to an analysis based not on “redaction” and tendency—fidelity to or departure from a long-gone plumb-line–as much as on the more or less purely artistic intention of the writer in terms of the story he is telling”.

      (I’m not suggesting the Jesus storyboard is fiction. On the contrary, the intent of its writer, writers, is that it is a theologically based salvation storyline.)

      Thus, my earlier point – the Jesus storyline is a developing storyline not a cast in stone re-collection, memory, of a historical event. The original source, the master copy? That’s the ninety nine dollar question! However, once one gets away from the historical Jesus assumption – the field does open up.

      “Do you ever wonder whether NT scholars hold onto the beliefs in Q and the independence of John largely because they desperately want multiple sources?”

      I’ve not really thought about that. But yes, that could well be. The assumed historicity of Jesus does require lots of backup…

      I’m no scholar, no expert, in all of this – so am free as a bird re taking alternative paths….Regarding Q. The more I think about things the more I see no need for it! Or perhaps more realistically – perhaps Q is not what it’s expected to be! If there is, was, a master copy of the Jesus storyboard – then the form that Jesus storyboard took cannot be assumed to be a ‘sayings’ gospel. ‘Sayings’ are simply words put into the mouth of the gospel Jesus – whether in an original master copy or any copies, developments etc. Consequently ‘Q’, as a master copy – would need to be something more substantial than a collection of ‘sayings’.

      Now to my mind – to really set the cat among the pigeons – the place to find a very early and very simple version of the Jesus storyboard is in – Slavonic Josephus. (don’t look at the dating re this translation – just consider the Jesus storyboard – and consider how everything else can develop from that basic template…)

      • 2010-06-17 01:00:09 UTC - 01:00 | Permalink

        Interesting that you should bring up the Slavonic Josephus. Recently I was playing a little game in my head. What if we look at Mark three different ways: as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. What is Mark saying for the first time? What is he arguing against? What stories is he bringing together in a new synthesis?

        Could a large part of the crucifixion narrative be a synthesis of the “real” Jesus — more Joshua than Jesus, meek and mild — who is remembered, albeit through a very distorted lens, in the Slavonic Josephus and the Christ who was executed by the archons in the sublunar realm? Take a specific case such as the two bookend bandits. Jesus, the failed warrior, would have been crucified among his comrades. But Christ died alone. Mark took these two stories and synthesized them into a Jesus who died between two brigands. They weren’t part of his gang, though; they mocked him like everybody else. So he was alone, but died with others — a curious synthesis.

    • maryhelena
      2010-06-17 01:31:40 UTC - 01:31 | Permalink

      …”thesis, antithesis, and synthesis”.

      That’s hitting the nail squarely on its head! To put it in more theological terms – life, death and rebirth. Theology being just a varient of our intellectual capacity. As goes our intellectual evolution – so goes our spirituality. Ideas come, they go and others take their place, albeit with some connection to what has gone before.

      And if one wants to take the gospel storyline re the crucifixion as being the ultimate symbol of spirituality, it becomes the hallmark of what makes us human: Our intellectlual capacity to surrender, to sacrifice, our outdated ideas in order that we may welcome the new, our intellectual rebirth to a new world view. Truly, our ‘salvation’ begins with ‘Calvery’…;-)

      No historical human crucifixion and no atonement theology built upon such a miscarriage of justice – could ever deliver what is only within our own power, our own intellect, to experience.

      Thus, the gospel storyline, in contrast to the OT with its emphasis upon physical realities, the chosen people, the promised land, places our human intellect, our spirituality, as a major player in who we are. Far reaching, ahead of its time, the gospel storyline was always in danger of being turned back to the physical realities, the bodily, historical, aspects of our nature.

      “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis”, life, death and rebirth, is not for the fainthearted in any generation. Far too revolutionary…

      • 2010-06-17 04:36:40 UTC - 04:36 | Permalink

        I had more mundane things in mind. Here’s another example of what I think is synthesis.

        The author of Mark has traditions that say Jesus didn’t care much about fasting. In fact, he knows several stories about the Jesus character eating with publicans and sinners, breaking bread with the disciples — let’s face it: Jesus was a chow-hound! (I can relate.) But Mark is also aware that in the Christian communities he knows, people pray and fast quite frequently. Perhaps the followers of John the Baptist asked Mark about this incongruity.

        So Mark synthesizes the contradicting threads, creating the story in which the Pharisees (as the accusing outsiders) ask, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And “the people” follow up with the question: “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?” This opening gives Jesus the chance to explain that while he was alive, his “groomsmen” feasted. Now that he’s gone, they fast.

        Thesis: Christians in Mark’s day fast, just like J.T.B.’s disciples.
        Antithesis: Sayings and traditions present a Jesus who ate and drank freely with all kinds of people. (No traditions of him fasting.)
        Synthesis: Both are correct. Jesus anticipated that this would happen, and Mark has an explanation that comes straight from the savior’s mouth.

    • maryhelena
      2010-06-17 06:23:00 UTC - 06:23 | Permalink

      I’m afraid I do tend to go for the big picture rather than its parts 😉

      I don’t know if I would call your example a synthesis. To me it’s more a case of finding two different context in which the two contradictory ideas are able to function. And most definitely, with the gospel storyline, using the idea of separate contexts does much to facilitate understanding. Not everything needs to fit into the same box. I may not have it right here – but I thought a synthesis was about finding a new context in which elements of both the thesis and the antithesis can function together. The whole is bigger than its parts – the synthesis brings forth something new that was not there before. A new context, a new perspective in which the best, the ‘truth’, of both the thesis and the antithesis can function.

      While finding different contexts in which the contradictions within the gospel storyline can be accommodated is interesting, and necessary – I’m more interested in going after the bigger picture – early Christian origins. The intricacies of the theological/spiritual side of things don’t really do much for me. One track mind here I’m afraid…

      • 2010-06-17 13:28:50 UTC - 13:28 | Permalink

        “…the synthesis brings forth something new that was not there before.”

        Perhaps nothing typifies this kind of synthesis better than the orthodox doctrine of the dual nature of Christ. The thesis (Jesus, 100% man) and the antithesis (Jesus, 100% divine) both became heretical. In the end, “the ‘truth’ of both the thesis and the antithesis can function,” but only as part of the new synthesis. To deny either would become heterodoxy, but to embrace both would create a new, ineffable mystery.

    • maryhelena
      2010-06-17 16:09:29 UTC - 16:09 | Permalink

      Now that synthesis is truly an ‘ineffable mystery’ – which, of course, is just what theology is. It’s like a magic wand; you can do anything with it. Even so far as to leave logic truly distraught!

      I’m no expert on logic as a philosophical discipline. However, I would think that a synthesis, by its very nature, does not incorporate 100% of either the thesis or the antithesis. It’s not an amalgamation of two opposite points of view – the antithesis suggests that there are errors within the thesis that it strives to expose. Which makes a synthesis different from two opposing points of view that can be accommodated, not amalgamated, within two different contexts.

      • 2010-06-18 00:01:44 UTC - 00:01 | Permalink

        You’re quite right. After a little Hegelian refresher, I see I’ve misused the terms. (According to Walter Kaufmann, we’re all doing it wrong!*)

        We need different terminology for the early Christian formula of combining disparate doctrines, making the new hybrid the orthodox position, and relegating the two parent doctrines to the heretical bone pile.

        * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thesis,_antithesis,_synthesis

  • mcduff
    2010-06-16 10:53:59 UTC - 10:53 | Permalink

    There is a strong irony in Nicholas Perrin’s outline of the history of Q in his introduction to “Understanding Q” in the context of his remark quoted above by Neil.

    If you read the following excerpts [necessarily brief from a 12 page work] with a different context in mind, namely the current resistance of Christian scholars to a non-historical JC, an amazing parallel evolves.

    “D.F.Strauss’s …a book which dealt a stunning blow to the rationalist and the supernaturalist understanding of of the historical Jesus….[p5]

    By postulating …[Q] …Holtzmann was able on some level to take up the challenge posed by Strauss even if he largely skirted the issues…[p5]

    By appealing to the notions of the primitive gospels [Ur-Markus/Q] Holtzmann thought he had uncovered the means of dispelling the dark clouds of Strauss’s radical scepticism…[p5]

    …the shift of focus from the gospel texts to the gospel behind the texts [Q]… meant the preservation of the dominant theological programme [p6]

    …one might even be tempted to say that if something like Q had not already been proposed in 1838 it would have soon run the risk of being invented…[p7]

    …no longer would it have been possible to pretend…[p7]

    …the current dominance of Q…is there some kind of vested interest in believing in its existence? [p8]

    ..[Q].. a theologically useful construct..[p8]

    All the while the more Q is presupposed the more collective resistance there is to calling it into question…[p8]

    …coming up against a nearly intractable intellectual inertia..[p9]

    It is hard to imagine life without retaining certain notions long regarded as basic truisms, the lenses through which we have been accustomed to look. [p9]

    Sometimes the best step on the path of truth is not a step forward but a step back. [p12]”

  • 2010-06-16 11:03:08 UTC - 11:03 | Permalink

    The simplest way to put this is that it would be absurd to deny that the holocaust took place but not that a particular character in a novel set during the holocaust is fictional. In the same way it would be absurd to deny that the Romans crucified a lot of Jews in the first century. But does that make it impossible for a specific character in a book set in that period to be fictional? Of course not.

  • 2010-06-16 11:56:43 UTC - 11:56 | Permalink

    “There is a strong irony…,” saith mcduff.

    Oh, yes. And there is deep, gut-wrenching, historical irony, too. The Holocaust in many respects is the tragic yet logical outcome of centuries of Jewish persecution. Think of how many times the passion play was reenacted at Easter all across Medieval Europe. I refer once again to Crossan, who (quoting Father Raymond S. Brown) describes the ritual of bringing a Jew during Passiontide “into the cathedral of Toulouse to be given a blow by the count — an honor!” This act apparently atoned for the inherited sin of killing Christ, and recalled the scene of the Sanhedrin slapping the bound Jesus and mocking him, saying: “Prophesy!”

    If the passion narratives truly are nothing but “prophecy historicized,” (and they are) then the rivers of Jewish blood and the brutal trail of sorrows leading to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and the rest resulted from a crime that never happened. It’s revolting enough to think of Matthew’s line — “Let his blood be upon us and our children” — existing in scripture. But just imagine it echoing across the centuries, with Christians seething at the crime of deicide, blaming every bad harvest, every plague, every misfortune on “The Jews.” All because of a myth.

    To have “reputable” NT scholars blithely call anyone who disagrees with their “facts” a Holocaust-denier is deeply ironic, but more than that — it’s insulting to Jews who have had to put up with Christian malignant love, false piety, and misplaced fury for two thousand years.

    • rey
      2010-06-16 13:45:13 UTC - 13:45 | Permalink

      It’s the Torah that openly preaches genocide, which means ironically the Nazis were Torah observant. The Torah really is Moses’ Mein Kamph about how he wants at least seven different Semitic tribes exterminated.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-06-16 14:33:37 UTC - 14:33 | Permalink

    ‘Do you ever wonder whether NT scholars hold onto the beliefs in Q and the independence of John largely because they desperately want multiple sources?’

    CARR
    If John agrees with Mark, it is historical because of multiple attestation.

    If John disagrees with Mark, (say over the baptism) it is historical because of the obvious embarrassment.

    John changes the baptism scene and the row in the Temple. How can the work be independent of the Novel that he changed?

  • rjosephhoffmann
    2010-06-17 05:14:39 UTC - 05:14 | Permalink

    I don’t mind that you think it is worth drawing attention to the absurd notion that historical Jesus denial is analogous to holocaust denial (except that some presumably significant scholars have thoughtlessly made the comparison); I do however mind misrepresentation of the reason for re-printing Goguel’s Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History. He was one of the triumvirs (Guignebert and Loisy being the others) of a tongue-in-cheek historicism that seriously entertained a prospect that many more orthodox Catholic and Protestant French NT scholars could not. You might want to see my introduction to Loisy’s The Gospel and the Church to examine the historical situation that required them to frame their opinion against the more radical likes of Couchoud, whose work is the occasion of Goguel’s book. The work is of some historical interest, but I agree that his arguments are weak and dated, but deserve exposure and examination for that reason. I don’t think it a particularly valorous or useful act to “demolish” them; but you may have other reasons for calling this pretty insignificant reprint to task. Anyway, I highly recommend the fruitfulness of having a look at the succession of French scholarship, beginning with Renan and Loisy even, but certainly including Guignebert (Loisy’s pupil for awhile) and the Protestant Goguel. I should also mention that the biggest reason for the shyness of scholars with respect to the non-historicity thesis had/has to do with academic appointments (as in security thereof)rather than common sense. As a middle-of-the road Hegelian like Strauss discovered.

    • Steven Carr
      2010-06-17 05:28:26 UTC - 05:28 | Permalink

      ‘(except that some presumably significant scholars have thoughtlessly made the comparison);’

      CARR
      I can’t think of any significant scholars that have made that comparison. Does Steph count as a significant scholar? Or a thoughtless one?

    • 2010-06-17 14:16:34 UTC - 14:16 | Permalink

      I take misrepresentation very seriously, and have entered a prominent notice of your correction in the post. I am sure you would do likewise if ever anyone drew attention to any misrepresentation on your part.

    • 2010-06-18 09:29:26 UTC - 09:29 | Permalink

      HOFFMANN: I agree that his arguments are weak and dated, but deserve exposure and examination for that reason. I don’t think it a particularly valorous or useful act to “demolish” them [Goguel’s arguments].

      NEIL: I don’t follow you. Weak and dated arguments deserve exposure and examination, you say. But you seem to take issue with my choice of the word “demolish”. Do you mean that a scholar like yourself can be said to “expose” them for the public benefit, but at the same time my choice of the word “demolish” can be picked up as a foil to suggest that an outsider like Doherty is a foolish Don Quixote if he exposes arguments that you say deserve to be exposed?

      HOFFMANN: I should also mention that the biggest reason for the shyness of scholars with respect to the non-historicity thesis had/has to do with academic appointments (as in security thereof)rather than common sense. As a middle-of-the road Hegelian like Strauss discovered.

      NEIL: Is not this something of a chicken and egg question? Why fear for tenure if not for something else less than scholarly at work in this situation?

  • Steven Carr
    2010-06-17 14:05:52 UTC - 14:05 | Permalink

    From James McGrath’s latest blog entry ‘Both (Matthew and John) represent impressions of Jesus, based to a greater or lesser extent on recollections about him; and both feel free to be creative with the words they place on Jesus’ lips, once again to a greater or lesser extent…..’

    Holocaust denial would be a lot more popular if the accounts of the Holocaust were as ‘creative’ as McGrath claims John is ‘John clearly felt free to attribute to Jesus words and sentiments that Jesus himself probably never uttered while on earth”‘

    So if the accounts of the Holocaust attributed to Hitler words and sentiments that Hitler never uttered, would Holocaust deniers still be regarded as totally misguided?

    Notice that McGrath puts in ‘…based on recollections about him (Jesus)’, while not producing a word of evidence that these are recollections.

    I suppose this is like the way some Hollywood films put in ‘Based on a true story’, just before the zombies appear and start attacking the snakes on the plane.

    If the only accounts of the Holocaust we had was Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ , and no primary evidence existed, would Holocaust denial not be a lot more popular?

  • 2010-06-17 21:49:21 UTC - 21:49 | Permalink

    Anyone who has consulted the Wikiquote link I included will see that I only quoted half of the “scholarly” comparisons of Jesus mythicism to holocaust denial.

    The other epithets tossed out are just as supercilious: “village atheist”, “bloggers on the internet”, “flat earther”, “no sane person”.

    All of this reflects my own experiences and observations of most “scholarly” responses to Jesus mythicism. This suggests to me that the issue is a bit more than academic tenure, or that the tenure issue is secondary.

    The pervasiveness of such insults, as some have already noted here, suggests something far more instructive about the “pseudo” nature of much of what passes for biblical scholarshihp. Real scholarly disciplines are quite comfortable with answering their “creationists” etc without any comparable insults.

    Even my own name is set there in the Wikiquotes as the foil for Crossan’s quote — someone has recorded Crossan’s reply to a brief exchange I had with him some years ago. Well, well.

    I also recommend reading the interview with Gilad Atzmon that touches on both Christ and the Holocaust, though from more nuanced perspectives than anything I have addressed here.

  • maryhelena
    2010-06-17 22:00:36 UTC - 22:00 | Permalink

    “So I am not at all certain that I can prove that the historical Jesus existed against such an hypothesis and probably, to be honest, I am not even interested in trying. ”
    John Dominic Crosson, “Historical Jesus: Materials and Methodology”, XTalk, 2000

    The very idea that there is no historical Jesus seems to be just too much for these scholars to imagine. However, since the belief in the assumption of a historical Jesus is just that – an assumption, an idea, it will, like all ideas, run its course and end up in the Museum of Historical Curiosities.

    I often think of the historical Jesus idea as being related to the Jerusalem temple – as the gospel Jesus himself compared his ‘body’ to that temple. Thus, like that temple – the historical Jesus assumption is going to go the same way…The Jews have survived without that temple – no reason that christians can’t do the same without the Jesus ‘temple’…For christianity to get with it, get with the times and move forward – death, destruction of its spiritual temple would need to be on the cards…In other words, christianity needs to be true to its roots – a spiritual/intellectual context in which life, death and rebirth are its inherent nature. It has not been called the mother of heretics for nothing!

  • 2010-06-17 21:47:18 UTC - 21:47 | Permalink

    “It’s the Torah that openly preaches genocide, which means ironically the Nazis were Torah observant. The Torah really is Moses’ Mein Kamph about how he wants at least seven different Semitic tribes exterminated.

    Comment by rey”

    In Mein Kamph Hitler complains that The Jews are guilty of giving the world a conscience. But why should I go by what Hitler said Mein Kamph meant when I have what you said. I could say his model for Nazi orthodoxy was the Catholic Church but then I’d sound like you. He just says he admired the fanatical devotion of the Catholic Church to protect orthodoxy.

    Joseph

    • 2010-06-19 14:49:58 UTC - 14:49 | Permalink

      Is not the fanatical devotion of the Catholic Church to protect orthodoxy the result of their belief in the Old Testament and its teachings like Deuteronomy 13 that anyone whoo seeks to leave the religion should be stoned to death (that you should kill your own family members)?

      Is not the fanatical devotion of the Catholic Church to protect orthodoxy the result of their belief in the Old Testament and the example of the supposedly “good kings” throughout the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles (like Hezekiah) who committed persecution against the ‘heretical’ forms of Judaism (like Baal and Asherah worship)?

      If Hitler used the Catholic church as his model, the Catholic church used the Old Testament as its model, so in the end it is the Old Testament that is to blame.

      The Catholics who believed in the Old Testament have persecuted everyone they could get their hands on throughout history. But the Marcionites who rejected the Old Testament persecuted no one and rather allowed themselves to be persecuted out of existence by the Catholics. I think this proves my point beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-06-19 01:52:48 UTC - 01:52 | Permalink

    http://blog.christilling.de/2010/06/steve-motyer-reviews-bennemas.html

    Stephen Motyer reviews this on the blog of Chris Tilling …

    ‘Cor shows that all the johannine characters are there to illustrate various responses to Jesus – and he shows well how varied and subtle the range of responses is, even though they can all be called either ‘adequate’ or ‘inadequate’, from John’s perspective. ‘

    Imagine if our accounts of the Holocaust had a cast of characters there to illustrate various responses to Hitler.

    Just exactly how does that differ from what a Novelist does?

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  • 2010-07-19 04:26:57 UTC - 04:26 | Permalink

    Rey:
    “If Hitler used the Catholic church as his model, the Catholic church used the Old Testament as its model, so in the end it is the Old Testament that is to blame.”

    JW:
    So now it’s the Nazis and the Catholics who are Torah observant.

    Joseph

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