2010-09-23

Historical Jesus scholarly quotes on historical methodology

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by Neil Godfrey

Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned.

(From a scholarly review of a chapter of a book discussing historical methodology)

In a discussion of a Wikipedia article on Historical Method:

Is there anything in the method outlined there (or better yet in the books cited if readers know them well or have time to consult them) that is not in keeping with the practices of historians working on the historical figure of Jesus? Or is there any point at which this survey and summary (or the method set forth in the sources the article cites) is at odds with what most historians do?

I ask because mythicists regularly claim that what scholars investigating the historical Jesus do is different from what mainstream historical study does.

In those books cited in that Wikipedia article, and that are appealed to in order demonstrate that biblical historians use the same methods as nonbiblical historians, appear gems like the following:

The author of a historical source may be God, as well as man. Hence the distinction between divine and human sources.

The procedure of critics who reject the possibility of miracles is manifestly unscientific.

I know of course that most mainstream biblical historians do not openly admit to the supernatural when dealing with historical inquiry, but the fact that an associate professor of religion is blithely confident enough to make such a claim about books he obviously has never read and only thinks he understands demonstrates just how out of touch some biblical scholars are with the historiography outside their own ivory tower. This was a key point in Scot McKnight’s chapter on historiography in his Death of Jesus, and which I discuss in relation to key names in nonbiblical historiography that he sees as relevant for biblical scholars. The scholar who refuses to address this is the one who responded with the ignorant remark about sources for methodology on the Wikipedia article.

(I know I know. Someone said this is like shooting fish in a barrel with a shotgun. Let’s move on.)

Oh, just one more. . . .

I’ve tried being reasonable and respectful

(comment 11491)

Agreed, he is very trying

  • Henk van der Gaast
    2010-09-23 20:50:26 UTC - 20:50 | Permalink

    obviously its a big bowl because that sort of logic seems to pervade amongst the bad debaters.

  • 2010-09-23 21:08:40 UTC - 21:08 | Permalink

    OK, who are you quoting there when you wrote the quotations below?

    “The author of a historical source may be God, as well as man. Hence the distinction between divine and human sources.

    The procedure of critics who reject the possibility of miracles is manifestly unscientific.”

    It sounds like something those engaging in apologetics and pretending to do history would write, and there are a lot of pseudo-historians in the realm of Biblical studies on the conservative side, and not just the mythicist side. That surely is no surprise to anyone. But to suggest that because there are people doing apologetics while pretending they are doing scholarship, those doing actual scholarship deserve to be tarred with the same brush, is the equivalent to saying that because New Agers appeal to quantum physics (in bogus ways) to argue for their views, then that’s characteristic of all who work in quantum physics.

    Perhaps you’d care to provide a source, so that it might perhaps be possible to discuss this?

  • 2010-09-23 21:50:07 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

    I am not your research assistant.

    Perhaps you’d like to read my previous post and read why if you were a nicer bloke I’d love to take the trouble to do your homework for you. But you were the one using your public statements about those books cited to make the public claim that people like me are essentially pinheads who don’t know what we are talking about. You have been exposed once again as being out of touch with the norms of historical works outside your own field, and as being arrogant enough to think you can just dish up any old easy bullshit to rebut those you treat as ignoramuses.

  • 2010-09-24 11:25:38 UTC - 11:25 | Permalink

    LOL. That’s a great rejoinder – swearing as a mode for distracting from the fact that you didn’t cite your sources. I wonder if a student will ever have the gall to try that one:

    Professor: “Why are there no footnotes citing your sources for these quotations?”

    Student: “I’m not your research assistant!” 🙂

    • 2010-09-24 12:39:34 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

      You perhaps misapprehend your relationship between yourself and people who are not your students. Nonetheless, I thought others who are reading these posts might be curious. Curiosity and the ability to do research are attributes of a good scholar, or at least they used to be…

      “The author of a historical source may be God, as well as man. Hence the distinction between divine and human sources.”

      p. 104, Gilbert J. Garraghan, A Guide to Historical Method, Fordham University Press: New York (1946)

      “The procedure of critics who reject the possibility of miracles is manifestly unscientific.”

      p. 301, Ibid.

      Don’t thank me — thank “teh Google.”

    • 2010-09-24 15:21:25 UTC - 15:21 | Permalink

      I am not your student, McGrath. Your arrogance as to pose as my professor is condescending and patronising. Where is your respect for a fellow human being with whom you disagree?

      You are the one playing the avoidance game. You have not answered a single question of mine or addressed a single argument in any of my posts with a straight answer since the earlier post, and can do nothing more but respond with insult, avoidance and arrogant condescension. It seems you are only here to troll and if that is the case you will go on my spam list.

      • James F. McGrath
        2010-09-24 16:16:57 UTC - 16:16 | Permalink

        I wasn’t insinuating that you are my student. Just pointing out the irony of blaming your conversation partner when they ask for the source of quotes that you fail to provide references for. I hope my students (and any students) would do better.

        • 2010-09-24 17:07:13 UTC - 17:07 | Permalink

          I have the books with me but had no intention of doing what was the onus on you before making your public claims about the books and what they inferred about others you ignorantly insult. When you implied you knew the tenor of their contents and message for historical studies you were kidding yourself as much as anyone else. This has been my point. It’s time you actually checked into the sources and books that you claim either support or oppose your views and speak from some knowledge. You have lots of knowledge but in topics discussed here you take shortcuts or treat me and others with disdain in your replies. I tire of your coming here to insult with innuendo and outrightly, and for consistently avoiding the points raised in posts and comments, and for speaking from second hand and misinformation (to put it politely) — all the while accusing me and others of not knowing what we are talking about or of being ignorant of the issues.

        • 2010-09-24 17:59:46 UTC - 17:59 | Permalink

          I told you in my initial reply that I had explained why I had no intention of giving you the cites in my previous post. I wrote there:

          “If McGrath was more of a gentleman and not so insulting I would take time to point out to him which of the titles cited there include arguments that reports of miracles — biblical miracles — are reasonable historical evidence. Not just belief in miracles, but among the Wikipedia sources it is argued that it is “scientific” to believe in biblical miracles. I will leave this observation as a lesson to him to check his sources before making public pronouncements about them and insulting others he likes to think don’t know much of what they are talking about.”

          You could have saved yourself the trouble of yet one more of your patronising comparisons.

  • Henk van der Gaast
    2010-09-24 13:53:10 UTC - 13:53 | Permalink

    I’ll re title this to “attributional studies” and move on to the delightful tete a tete above.

    My oh my, quantum entanglement examples?

    Does this now mean that I can use my usual sentence structures with the patina of Oz “mate ship” clauses and the veneer of pub enharmonisation?

    OK, I’ll remain cool calm and collected at the misguided history and the supernatural. If its supernatural, it cant be seen, heard, felt or detected (otherwise it would be natural). This is the downfall of the non natural god argument that holds sway amongst the common christianity today.

    The comments that miracles occur is correct, the fact that you are the individual observing anything within your lifetime is essentially of such a low probability it would be a miracle. It is not a miracle that one in say 6 billion alive would see something astounding and not comprehend it and consequently relate it as a miracle. The probability for that is almost unity considering the trite rubbish I have to endure as documentary in todays media. Given religious factors and political exhuberance (ie ideologies), its entirely likely that we have the entire number of 1st century miracle observers every single day within this population.

    Miracles of the faith are attributed and often reattributed, reinforced, reinterpreted and favourably redacted over a very very short period. The north korean holy family is a prime example of this.

    so examining “potty mouth” digs (I can’t help laughing at that exchange) on the potentially ludicrous;

    1) “The author of a historical source may be God, as well as man. Hence the distinction between divine and human sources.”

    p. 104, Gilbert J. Garraghan, A Guide to Historical Method, Fordham University Press: New York (1946)

    “The procedure of critics who reject the possibility of miracles is manifestly unscientific.”

    p. 301, Ibid

    One cant help noticing that the scholar is writing at a time of great freedom of scholarly expression. Bully for him too. If that period had not existed we would not have his and the works of his proponents and opponents to examine. CF scholarly study (no matter what side) with the trite vagus twitchings the modern apocalytic who scares old ladies. Scholars that keep you on your toes are scholars with a position to bother to read.

    1) coming from a background where the divine is not recognised as a driver for physics I may comment to the (far smarter than I) if the divine enacted something, which divine was it? Even (as evident from the casual allusions into the old testament) the divine can be a number of critters. All of these look suspiciously man made and some actual reinventions (Baal-Yahweh).

    If a scholar today has the same reasoning, he had better apportion the deity (his/her reasons why) and why the act of inspiration was natural (as in jerusalem-yahweh, baalbeck – baal and david-baalberith-bethlehem)
    As one may surmise, I too notice a tenuous connection between the legendary and the mythic with known places. Supernatural has no place in the OT (this I will gladly debate and willingly lose). Legend, myth and lore is astoundingly powerful.

    2) as stated above, a miracle is only a miracle if verified. To this point, and as far as I know, the only miracle I have observed is Marco van Basten’s goal in the final of the Euro 1988. You see, that beautiful goal could not have occurred but for the miraculous appearance of Ruud Gullit.

    You say that isnt a miracle? I bet you 4 potty mouths and a smug bastard to one dirty tissue that it is!

    Miracles are in the retelling. Mostly they centre around Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Reg Gasnier and Diego Maradona. With the latter being a miracle that he wasnt spotted…

  • Steven Carr
    2010-09-24 14:54:42 UTC - 14:54 | Permalink

    MCGRATH
    Or is there any point at which this survey and summary (or the method set forth in the sources the article cites) is at odds with what most historians do?

    I ask because mythicists (who deserve to be ignored but, like young-earth creationists and other such groups, cannot be because people who turn to the internet for knowledge listen to them) regularly claim that what scholars investigating the historical Jesus do is different from what mainstream historical study does.

    CARR
    The irony is that McGrath links to a source which cites Garraghan explaining that God can write books….

    And then immediately scolds mythicists for claiming that McGrath’s sources do history differently from non-Biblical historians.

    When McGrath’s own specially selected link is to a source which explains that God can write books!

    MCGRATH
    I said in the post that I’d much rather discuss the books cited and summarized in the article, rather than the article itself. But I didn’t think I could assume that any proponents of mythicism would actually have read even one of them. I’d be happy to be proven wrong about this.

    CARR
    McGrath slams mythicists for not reading books claiming God can write bits of the Bible, and slams mythicists for claiming Biblical historians do history differently from non-Biblical historians.

    When anybody can see Dale Allison claim that Paul knew about Gethsemane because Paul says Christians ‘cry Abba Father’, and ‘cry’ is a word well suited to descriptions of Jesus being ‘distressed’ and ‘agitated.’

    This is not history. It is not even an attempt at doing history. It is picking out words like ‘cry’, ‘distressed’, ‘agitated’ and claiming you are a historian.

    No wonder McGrath loves that sort of historical analysis and regards it as the peak of scholarship.

    Because it is junk.

    • James F. McGrath
      2010-09-24 19:18:48 UTC - 19:18 | Permalink

      The point, surely, is that Garraghan had a PhD in history and so is bound to be a better, nay a “real”, historian, and not one of those nasty so-called “Biblical historians” you complain about.

      As I’ve said all along, the issue is not whether someone works on the historical figure of Jesus or something else, but whether they follow the rules of historical study or allow ideology to override the rules of evidence.

      Most historians and New Testament scholars working on the historical figure of Jesus would disagree with Garraghan and say that historians can’t. Ever treat miracles as likely to have happened, nor God to have been the author of a book. But your previous false dichotomy between “Biblical historians” and people with PhDs in history would suggest that Garraghan is right and people like me are wrong.

      And that’s why I find conversations with mythicists frustrating…

      • Steven Carr
        2010-09-24 20:22:24 UTC - 20:22 | Permalink

        There is a non sequitor by McGrath.

        If somebody has a PhD in history, then if he does Biblical history, then he is doing Biblical history the way people outside Biblical history do history.

        That does not follow, as even McGrath points out that when Garraghan did Biblical history he was abandoning the rules that , I quote ‘most historians’ use.

        The lack of logic of a McGrath is frustrating.

        Meanwhile McGrath is unable to say a word to defend Allison claiming Paul knew about Gethsemane because he says Christians cry out ‘Abba, Father’.

        McGrath knows better than to bring this up when he is trying to defend Biblical scholarship.

        Much better to keep totally quiet about such things, in the forlon hope that it will not be mentioned.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-09-24 15:12:06 UTC - 15:12 | Permalink

    Dale Allison writes on page 422 of his new book that communities loved to tell and hear stories of their gods and heroes.

    And immediately claims that this is why Paul has no need to retell stories!

    Allison even claims Simon of Cyrene is historical (page 425), even though there is not one bit of evidence he existed, and Allison claims he has heard no good arguments that Simon of Cyrene was not historical.

    Mainstream Biblical scholarship is all just built on assumptions, as Allison himself implies when he claims that he accepts things as historical until there is evidence that they are not.

    On page 436 , Allison claims some things in the Gospels must be true because they put the disciples in a less than flattering light, so they could not have been invented.

    Mythicists can point to myriads of examples of mainstream Biblical historians not doing real history.

    No wonder McGrath has to write articles saying that they do, because mythicists keep producing real life examples of mainstream Biblical historians writing junk and calling it history.

    If mainstream historians did not do that, McGrath would not need to post blog entries denying that these examples exist.

    And would not need to explain that mainstream Biblical historians use a source, *however inauthentic it may be*.

    In other words, it simply does not matter to McGrath how inauthentic a source is.

    ‘However inauthentic it may be’, he claims it will provide true historical facts.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-09-24 15:14:52 UTC - 15:14 | Permalink

    My apologies.

    I mistyped.

    I must correct this slur on Dale Allison.

    ‘On page 436 , Allison claims *some historians claim* things in the Gospels must be true because they put the disciples in a less than flattering light, so they could not have been invented.’

    In other words, Allison himself knows that some mainstream Biblical historians use really bad methods, and explains on the next page that he does not like those methods.

    So Dale Allison concedes what McGrath dare not – that mainstream Biblical historians use bad methods.

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