2011-04-02

Interview with Earl Doherty

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I asked Earl Doherty a few questions about his background and what led him to his Christ myth views; his understanding of the relationship between atheism and mythicism, and atheism in genera; influences leading to his own distinctive views and public/scholarly reactions to the mythicism, and towards him personally; his place in the history of the Christ myth idea and what he sees as the future status of Christ-mythicism. I also asked him about his website and books, including his novel.

His responses address other mythicists such as G. A. Wells and Paul-Louis Couchoud, a few mythicism’s current critics, and his views on American novelist Vardis Fisher. (The name of this blog, Vridar, is taken from the autobiographical character in Vardis Fisher’s final novel in his Testament of Man series, Orphans in Gethsemane.)

I am sure others will find his replies as interesting as I did.

And a special thanks to Earl for making time to respond as he did. I include a link to his Age of Reason and Jesus Puzzle websites at the end of his responses to my questions.

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1. What led to your interest in the Christ myth theory?

Earl D: In 1982 I read a couple of books by G. A. Wells, and I was quite taken aback. While I had vaguely heard of the ‘no historical Jesus’ idea during the 1970s, I tended to regard it as unlikely. Not, however, based on any particular knowledge of the subject. But that has enabled me to understand the automatic dismissal which the Christ myth theory usually receives from those who really know very little about it. In 1984, after finishing a novel I had been working on for some time, I began to read more widely, and soon decided I would undertake my own research of the question, perhaps with a view to writing my own book. While I have a high respect for Prof. Wells, I felt that the subject could use a different approach. Fortunately, I had studied ancient Greek in university during the 1960s, as part of a degree in ancient history and classical languages. I could build on that earlier education and supplement it with my own private study. Before long, I guess you could say it became an obsession.

2. When did your Jesus Puzzle website first appear?

Earl D: In 1996. The year before, I had written a series of four articles on the Jesus Myth theory for Humanist in Canada, the magazine of Canadian Humanist Publications. Those articles were then posted on a web page owned and operated by a close friend, as I was Internet-illiterate at the time. Much to my surprise, having spent over a decade toiling in obscurity, I saw them gain very wide attention rather quickly, and I became somewhat notorious in biblical circles. Over the next couple of years I expanded the website considerably, and wrote The Jesus Puzzle novel (still posted on the website in its entirety after I was unsuccessful in convincing Prometheus Books to publish it, although it has since been published in Korean, Spanish and Portuguese). I haven’t spent as much time and effort on the site over the last few years, being occupied with other things, including my new book.

3. In your view, is the Christ myth idea necessarily related to atheism?

Earl D: In principle, it doesn’t have to be. But where Christianity is concerned, the Christian God is so tied up with Jesus Christ, one might conclude that the former without the latter has almost nothing to do. In Christian devotion, the Son virtually eclipses the Father. After two millennia, I don’t think Christian believers could shift their attention and devotion from a Son who was on earth to one who was entirely heavenly—even though that was good enough for Paul and his contemporaries. Losing the historical Jesus as the Son of God on earth might well unseat the Father in heaven as well.

4. Have you always been an atheist? If not, what led to your embracing atheism?

Earl D: I became an atheist at the age of 19. (I regret that it didn’t happen earlier.) It was largely an intellectual conversion, as too many things about the Catholic faith I grew up in were no longer acceptable. Once one sets aside the indoctrination of belief in a God, one sees the world through entirely different eyes. I recommend it.

5. What is your view of what is sometimes called the “New Atheism“, and of its main voices like Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet and such?

Earl D: I applaud it, and I have a high regard for these writers. Religion has done and continues to do much harm in the world, on both the grand and the individual scale. It does not deserve a privileged position immune to criticism, as it largely enjoyed when I was young. If we have to get a little aggressive with it to make our case, I have no objection. I’m not known for pulling my punches either, as some of my writings on my Age of Reason website show.

6. You have written reviews of each of the novels in Vardis Fisher’s Testament of Man series. Why do you have such an interest in Vardis Fisher and this series of novels in particular?

Earl D: For about a year in the late 1980s, I took a break from my Jesus research and undertook a too-ambitious project of combining reviews of historical novels with a capsule history of the world! I read Fisher’s Testament as part of that project, and my reviews on the series were expanded for American Atheist magazine in 2000-2001. The scope of Fisher’s vision has no equal in the field in my estimation, and they were inspiring. As some may know, Fisher’s 11 novels of the Testament trace the evolution of humanity’s intelligence and its religious and moral beliefs from the dawn of self-consciousness two million years ago to the Christian Middle Ages. He drew on the most progressive scholarship of the first half of the 20th century, and the religious establishment of his day was not pleased! Fisher, incidentally, was not a declared mythicist, but he believed nothing could be known of the man if he did exist.

7. Is your own online novel about The Jesus Puzzle influenced by Vardis Fisher’s novels?

Earl D: To the extent that my novel was designed to be a novel of ideas (centered on the question of Jesus’ existence), but combined with an entertaining and suspenseful storyline with strong characters, as Fisher’s novels were (although I threw in a fair bit more sex than he did). I actually worked in a reference to each of the novels of the Testament within my own novel.

8. Have you attempted to engage the academic community with your ideas?

Earl D: I am periodically criticized by my dissenters on Internet discussion boards for not making a more determined effort to do that, though it’s clear that their motives are anything but prompted by a desire to have the case for Jesus Mythicism properly evaluated. They fully expect that if “peer-reviewed,” that case would be soundly trashed and mythicism revealed as charlatanry. Of course, “peer review” is a woolly term, and if the dissenters themselves are any indication (and they are), those “peers” would hardly give it an honest hearing, assuming journals were even willing to publish such things. One journal was not. (Short articles on individual topics is not the best route to go, since the case is a complex one, hardly to be done justice, let alone have a chance of gaining understanding and respect, in anything less than a book.) It’s telling that in the dozen years since mythicism underwent a resurgence in the hands of several writers like myself, there has not been a single response to it undertaken by mainstream scholars beyond the odd comment comprising the same tired old ‘refutation’ points we’ve been hearing for a century. Apologists on the Internet have attempted rebuttals, and one book by two well-known apologists (Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd) recently made an effort, but traditional scholars have largely adopted the three-monkey approach. Rumors abound lately that Bart Ehrman will undertake a book project, but his oft-declared dismissive attitude toward mythicism does not bode well for any effective addressing of the subject, let alone including anything new.

9. Were you surprised at the hostility that is sometimes directed at you personally? And how do you account for this hostility?

Earl D: I can’t say that it was unexpected. Shortly after my website appeared, I got onto the original Crosstalk. This was in the late 1990s, and the animosity by academic scholars who frequented it was palpable. I received more insult and personal attacks than professional rebuttal. Mythicism is, of course, highly threatening, as it upsets the paradigm cart like nothing else. One’s entire scholarly world gets turned upside down, and careers can hang in the balance. And, of course, confessional interests in one form or another are often involved, despite claims of critical and secular approaches. This is the sort of atmosphere one is up against in any attempt at “peer review.” I’ve just chosen not to waste my time with it.

But the most surprising expression of hostility is that which is directed at me, and mythicism in general, coming from self-declared agnostics and atheists, mostly on the Internet scene, though occasionally from ‘professionals’ in academia who frequent the Internet. They claim a complete absence of confessional motivation, and they can often be quite radical in other aspects of New Testament research, and yet their animosity toward the no-historical Jesus idea and those who promote it can be rabid. (And not because they are able to mount much of a case for rebutting mythicism or defending historicism.) I’ve encountered opponents like that right from the beginning, and I confess I’m still trying to figure that one out. Maybe the answer lies in their past, I don’t know. It’s one thing to repudiate and escape from a religious upbringing, it’s perhaps another to have to face the fact of having been ‘had’ to the extent that the figure one used to believe in never even existed.

10. Has there been any particular trend in the opposition to your views that you have noticed since your views have been gaining attention? What is distinctive about your particular Christ myth theory, and have any other Christ myth proponents had ideas similar to yours?

Earl D: As most reading this may know, my case for a mythical Jesus involves an element which, though not entirely unprecedented, has generated a lot of debate. Namely, that the early Christ cult which Paul belonged to regarded their Jesus figure as an entirely heavenly Savior-Son who underwent his death and rising in the heavenly world. I differ dramatically in that respect from G. A. Wells who was the major proponent of the no-Jesus theory in the quarter-century prior to the mid-90s. Prior to Wells, the mythicist whose views were closest to my own was Paul-Louis Couchoud who wrote in the 1920s, though I took my own fresh run at the question and drew very little from Couchoud himself. This “spiritual Christ and heavenly crucifixion” is a complex matter, and relies on a wide range of evidence and interpretation both within the Christian documentary record and outside it. It also has the disadvantage of being incompatible with modern scientific mindsets and tendencies of thinking; it really is quite alien to us today, and many seem to have difficulty getting their minds around it. But as I say in my Introduction to Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, “We cannot determine what constituted the original Christian belief according to what we today would be led to accept. The mythical heavenly Christ of Paul ought not to be rejected simply because we would reject it.” However, I do have to say that some who were formerly accepting of G. A. Wells’ interpretation (that the Pauline cult believed in a Jesus who had been on earth and crucified there, though at an unknown time in the past) have been won over to my “heavenly Christ” concept.

11. G. A. Wells appears to have moved away from the Christ myth idea in his more recent publications. What do you think of his reasons for going in this direction?

Earl D: Wells still regards the Pauline Christ as non-existent, even if Paul supposedly believed he had once lived on earth. (Wells subscribes to the latter apparently on the basis of certain pieces of human-sounding language sometimes encountered in the epistles, missing the possibility that such language can be understood within the Platonic conceptions of the time.) Wells does not link Paul’s Christ to any known historical figure, certainly not any figure portrayed in the Gospels. His ‘reversal’ has to do entirely with the so-called Q Jesus. He seems to have been persuaded by research like that of the Jesus Seminar who felt that a genuine Jewish sage could be unearthed at the root of the Galilean Q tradition. I disagree, and believe I have demonstrated that the Q Jesus was a later invented figure whose development can be traced through the various strata of the Q document, one who cannot be located at the movement’s inception.

12. Albert Schweitzer blamed the negative tone of the Christ myth debate in his own day squarely on the arrogance and righteous crusading zeal of the mythicists. Do you think there is anything to that criticism that is relevant today?

Earl D: It is still relevant in that such criticism is still being levelled at mythicists. First of all, arrogance and righteous crusading zeal would hardly be the exclusive provenance of mythicism. And arrogance and zealotry is in the eye of the beholder. The negative tone in the whole debate is primarily due to the longstanding hostile and closed-minded reaction of established academia to all things mythicist, prompting a certain degree of push-back on the part of those who have an honest theory to promote and yet are being dismissed as kooks and know-nothings. Most of the mythicist books published in the last dozen years have been anything but arrogant and zealous, including my own Jesus Puzzle (it is often complemented for its non-argumentative tone), the books of Robert M. Price (despite his appealing ‘pop’ humor) and writers on the Internet. I would say that the arrogance and zealousness is more in evidence on the other side. I am admittedly capable of sometimes letting my hair down on Internet discussion boards, but mostly in response to extreme attacks from defenders of an historical Jesus.

13. What is your background in New Testament Greek?

Earl D: Four years of study of Classical Greek in university, supplemented by years of (still ongoing) private study. While my natural proficiency in Greek may be less than that of those who work with it constantly in the world of academia, it is more than adequate to the purpose. It has yet to be demonstrated that any linguistic analysis or translation I have offered in the presentation of my case is erroneous or seriously deficient. (Jeffrey Gibson, much touted as a Greek expert par excellence—mostly by himself—constantly impugned my proficiency without ever providing a concrete example of such, though he was guilty of a gross mistake himself on one occasion.)

14. Where do you see yourself in the history of the Christ myth idea?

Earl D: They say that history is written by the victors. I am convinced that within a generation, the Christ myth theory will be one of the principal theories of New Testament study, acceptable to the secular academic community (a segment which is growing, though not without opposition) and a significant portion of the interested lay population. Where I will be seen in the development of that process, it’s hard to say. Though it has come as an unexpected surprise to me, I know that my books and website have had a significant impact and that I am probably regarded as today’s leading mythicism proponent. However, if a prominent established NT scholar were to switch sides, I might well be eclipsed and relegated to a footnote. If I’m still around, I’ll have to settle for knowing that my contribution to the promotion of Jesus mythicism at the beginning of the 21st century was important, perhaps even crucial, to its resurgence and growing acceptance as a legitimate theory.

15. What is the difference between what people read on the Jesus Puzzle website and what they might read in your books?

Earl D: The website is less unified, though contains more detail (over half a million words and counting). After the Main Articles, which offer a capsule linear case, articles tend to address individual topics or documents. As well, I offer Reader Feedback and responses to critiques. My latest book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, is pretty comprehensive at 800+ pages. It builds on the earlier The Jesus Puzzle, but with much greater depth on just about every subject. Some of that depth in regard to more recent research will not be found on the website. I know the new book is pricey (at $40), but I approached it as though it would be my principal legacy, if you will, (rather than write a new book every year as Wells and Price tend to do) and a lot had to go into it. It won’t make me rich (that was never my intention), but I hope it will stand for many years to come as a must-read in the mythicism debate. (It is amazing how much condemnation I receive from allegedly knowledgeable people who refuse to read my books.) If nothing else, it demonstrates the depth and richness of the Christ myth theory, in the face of those who dismiss and condemn it on the basis of very little knowledge of what it has to offer.

16. You seem to be a very private person. I don’t think anyone in “internet land” has any idea of what you look like, your educational background, what you do or have done for a living. Why is this?

Earl D: I’ve revealed my educational background in a few places (including the Preface of my new book), and there are a few people I’ve met at conventions who frequent discussion boards who know what I look like. But I have kept a relatively low personal profile, perhaps partly out of caution but also because I don’t want to intrude my personality or background into the debate. I’ve been involved in a number of occupations in my life, but they are irrelevant to my research into the origins of Christianity and if introduced might be a distraction to that cause. And I don’t shrink from using that term. While I regard my scholarly integrity as not compromised by my personal views, there are few who are not aware that I regard religion, and Christianity in particular, as counter-productive to human progress. And if we have all been led down the garden path for the last two millennia as to the real origins of the religion which has affected so many lives in the western world and beyond, I am convinced that this must be brought to light.

17. What do you say to those who think that to doubt the historicity of Jesus is being hypersceptical?

Earl D: The more antagonistic people are toward an idea, the more they will cast it in extreme terms. (Consider the early Christian heresiologists.) If the evidence leads toward something being entirely non-existent, why should anyone settle for half an existence? There is no progress without correct knowledge. And there’s nothing “hyper” about trying to achieve that.

——–

http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/

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  • P. George Stewart
    2011-04-02 21:59:59 UTC - 21:59 | Permalink

    Great stuff. The debates between Earl and his critics are always worth reading, one learns a lot. I think maybe Earl is a bit over-sensitive to criticism sometimes, but in the context one can forgive that – it’s pretty hard to fend off the dogpiling in debates, and still remain civil, sometimes. However, he does pretty well in those debates, all things considered.

    The anti-mythicist atheists are a curiosity for me too. I gather the self-avowed reason, for at least two of them I know, is that they think the case for atheism is damaged by association with mythicism. It’s intellectually disreputable in their view. But where this might be true for some of the web mythicism you see, it’s not true for Earl’s stuff, which is of a proper scholarly standard.

    One accusation levelled against mythicists is that they have a hidden agenda. As has been pointed out numerous times, this is unlikely, because mythicism is a broad church (it has atheists, but it also has theists, deists, humanists, agnostics, etc.)

  • Bob Carlson
    2011-04-03 05:03:52 UTC - 05:03 | Permalink

    Rumors abound lately that Bart Ehrman will undertake a book project, but his oft-declared dismissive attitude toward mythicism does not bode well for any effective addressing of the subject, let alone including anything new.

    After reading Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus, I sent him the following email:

    Your Misquoting book is superb, but I was nevertheless left wondering about the concept of misquoting a person whose existence I have yet to see any convincing evidence for. Therefore, I challenge you or like-minded colleagues to publish a book that will show that the writers who have convinced me that Jesus is entirely mythical are probably wrong.

    His response:

    You can certainly believe whomever you want. But it should give one pause that there aren’t any established historians of antiquity or classicists who find these mythological views at all convincing (nor any experts in the “mystery religions” that these sensationalists invoke). ANyway, I’ll be writing about this in my next book, a couple of years hence.

    That was September of 2009, so it isn’t yet quite a couple of years hence. In December of 2009, Ehrman was interviewed by the Infidel Guy, and the opening question in Part 1 of the interview is whether Ehrman believes in a historical Jesus. Ehrman says he is thinking of writing a book about this because he gets the question a lot. He says that he is sometimes quoted as a person who thinks Jesus didn’t exist, which he claims is very strange in view of the fact that he has written an entire book about what Jesus said, whereupon he laughs, presumably to emphasize how preposterous he thinks claims of non-historicity are. Then he asserts that people who write sensational books about Jesus not existing are just trying to make a lot of money selling books. It is clearly a cheap shot unbecoming a Professor who expects listeners to believe he has information to refute claims that Jesus never existed, while also expecting listeners to believe that he has more noble reasons for publishing many books for popular consumption.

    • 2011-04-03 12:28:32 UTC - 12:28 | Permalink

      There was a discussion of Erhman’s coming e-book on Freeratio last month: http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=299344

      • Bob Carlson
        2011-04-04 07:12:02 UTC - 07:12 | Permalink

        And I like Earl Doherty’s comment.

      • Evan
        2011-04-05 02:18:45 UTC - 02:18 | Permalink

        Ehrman seems to be of two minds about this. From the 2nd chapter of his latest book, Forged:

        Ancient people also had a more nuanced sense of truth and falsehood; they too had stories that they accepted as “true” in some sense without thinking that they actually happened. Most scholars today recognize that the majority of educated people in ancient Greece and Rome did not literally believe that the myths about the gods had actually happened historically. They were stories intending to convey some kind of true understanding of the divine realm and humans’ relationship to it.

        Either educated Christians didn’t exist or they were sui generis.

  • 2011-04-03 06:31:57 UTC - 06:31 | Permalink

    I would also be very curious to read Ehrman’s take on the question because it was his stuff that helped convince me how poor the sources for the historical Jesus really were. I am always fascinated by the degree of animosity that can be generated simply taking the (what seems to be rather small) step of going from “the historical Jesus is unknowable for all practical purposes” to “the historical Jesus might not have existed at all.” The former claim seems to be perfectly respectable within mainstream New Testament studies whereas the latter puts one on the lunatic fringe.

    • Geoff Hudson
      2011-04-03 07:32:26 UTC - 07:32 | Permalink

      I believe that Jesus and Paul never existed, and I am beginning to think the same about Josephus. Now that puts me well on the lunatic fringe. There is a common factor to all three though, Flavian historians.

    • 2011-04-03 08:40:51 UTC - 08:40 | Permalink

      Dear Vinny,

      I don’t think that you would get much of a interchange on this topic from Ehrman. Ehrman has had great widespread success writing books for the public. It is important to him to not turn off this popularity. People don’t want their popular writers to question the legends too much. They want books on the big three; Jesus, Paul & The Bible. Ehrman is very careful to make sure that he does not offend the public. Notice how he will not call himself an atheist, but calls himself an agnostics. The world accepts agnostics, the world does not accept atheists. Ehrman was once a evengelical christian and learned better. He has found a nitch writing books that describe the variety of early christian groups, and have written them in a way that appeals to the public. But, you must realize that he is still in the religion industry. Once you eliminate jesus, you eliminate christianity, and hence the religion industry. You will not see the elimination of jesus any time soon, because the religion industry relies on this. The public will simply totally ignore the religion industry if they move away from support of a jesus. So don’t expect honest answers about Jesus legends from people within the religion industry.

      Cheers! RichGriese.NET

      • 2011-04-03 08:48:43 UTC - 08:48 | Permalink

        Rich,

        I also call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist. I do not find your theories about Ehrman persuasive.

      • Geoff Hudson
        2011-04-03 19:29:59 UTC - 19:29 | Permalink

        Its a pity we don’t know as much about Doherty as we do about Erhman.

        Now just think what a Flavian editor could have done, retrospectively, to a well-known Jewish resident of Rome who was a supporter of the prophets. He could have turned him into a Jewish traitor.

  • Bob Carlson
    2011-04-03 10:51:27 UTC - 10:51 | Permalink

    Rich’s arguments make sense to me. Ehrman’s use of an Evangelical church pulpit to opine that atheists are arrogant and inferring that agnostics like him are reasonable in comparison seems like a strategy for selling books in a country where the majority of potential buyers of his books are Christian. From his Wikipedia:

    “In the church of his youth in Lawrence [Kansas], with nearly every pew at capacity last week, Bart D. Ehrman, chairman of the department of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, announced that he was an agnostic. He joked that atheists think agnostics are wimpy atheists and that agnostics think atheists are arrogant agnostics.” “Agnostic’s questions have biblical answers,” Vern Barnet, Kansas City Star, 23 April 2008

    • 2011-04-03 11:44:54 UTC - 11:44 | Permalink

      If he’s using the term agnostic in the popular (and incorrect) sense, then I’m troubled that yet another American public intellectual is willing to ride the wave of public ignorance. He surely must know that calling himself an agnostic is not the same as saying, “I’m a doubter.”

      Agnosticism describes the axis of knowledge and how much you believe you can know. It does not describe whether you have a belief in deities. The majority of today’s atheists would likely admit that they don’t know if gods exist (or for that matter angels, or demons, or elves, or leprechauns), but they do not believe. In other words, most atheists are agnostics — they lack the belief but think it isn’t possible to know for certain.

      I don’t necessarily object to people calling themselves agnostics, since I am one, but I wish they wouldn’t use it as if it explains their attitude toward the supernatural. It’s as if you asked me how tall I was and I gave you my weight, of if you asked me my favorite color and I told you I like listening to Haydn. I call myself an atheist, because the term agnostic refers to my attitude toward knowledge in general, not my belief or lack thereof.

      Bart is no fool and certainly has to know the difference. All right, he’s an agnostic. And so are most intellectually honest people who have a passing acquaintance with philosophy. Why doesn’t he tell us whether he’s an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist?

      • 2011-04-03 15:02:54 UTC - 15:02 | Permalink

        Why doesn’t he tell us whether he’s an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist?

        After having been a very liberal Christian for most of my adult life, I think I started identifying myself as an agnostic mostly because I realized that I didn’t care whether or not there was a God. Believing in God didn’t seem to change who I wanted to be, how I wanted to live my life, or how I thought about the people around me so I just quit worrying about whether God existed or not. My son tells me that I am really an atheist and he could be correct. Nevertheless, before I choose to identify myself as an atheist, I would feel it necessary to study the philosophical issues more carefully to satisfy myself that it is the most accurate description of my position. Unfortunately, there are so many other things that I am interested in studying, like history and economics, that resolving the question of whether I am really an atheist rather than an agnostic just isn’t a very high priority.

        Maybe for Ehrman it is enough to be confident that the god he used to believe in doesn’t exist. Maybe he doesn’t see the question of whether any conceivable god might exist as terribly important to the work he does or the meaning that he has found for his life. I do think that his joke pretty accurately captures the situation and that some who label themselves atheists get unnecessarily worked up over those who do not.

        • 2011-04-03 15:41:12 UTC - 15:41 | Permalink

          Well, it could also be that Ehrman knows that in the popular press if he says he’s an atheist, it will be interpreted as “Bart believes there is no God.” And he knows that trying to get the media to understand that it simply means a lack of belief in gods would be like trying to get the sun to rise in the west.

          I suspect he uses the term “agnostic” because he knows that will be interpreted as though he just can’t make up his mind. And I suppose it does bother me a bit, since that’s a tad dishonest.

          I actually get more “worked up” that when defending the historical Jesus thesis Bart frequently appeals to “a majority of scholars” as if it were evidence and sometimes resorts to character assassination as if it were a legitimate argument. If he’s right and there really is a mountain of evidence, he doing the HJ cause a disservice by not referring to it instead.

          • 2011-04-03 16:17:39 UTC - 16:17 | Permalink

            Tim,

            That may be what is going on in Ehrman’s head, but I am willing to give him the benefit of doubt. I would also cut him some slack on his choice of labels because he is still married to a woman who professes to be a Christian. I have tremendous respect for Ehrman’s contributions to public understanding of Christian origins.

      • Bob Carlson
        2011-04-04 06:59:32 UTC - 06:59 | Permalink

        Bart is no fool and certainly has to know the difference.

        I suppose you are right, and, if you are, he is surely well aware that most believers don’t know the difference and that calling himself an agnostic makes them more willing to read the books he writes than they would be if he called himself an atheist.

  • 2011-04-03 13:41:24 UTC - 13:41 | Permalink

    people confuse two binary sets;

    {theist, atheist} which has to do with the belief in gods

    {gnostic, agnostic} which is a general term to mean “one who has knowledge” and “one who lacks knowledge”.

    There is no set {theist, atheist, agnostic}

    When someone is asked if they believe in gods, they are being asked about the theism set. supplying the answer “agnostic” is not an answer. Technically if you do not think you can know if gods exist, then you are an “atheist” since you are not answering affirmative to ‘do you believe gods exist?”

    What Ehrman is doing is dodging the question. Being a popular author he does not want to anger his potential audience.

    Being asking ‘do you believe in gods?” is a yes or no question. Agnostic is not one of the options.

    My original point about Ehrman’s view on the legends of Jesus is generally that he cannot give you an honest public answer, because he has moved from being strictly an academic, into being a popular author, and/or public figure. Once a person does this, their answer are no longer honest, because they now have to manage their “brand” so as to not anger the people that consume their product. So my point was, it is not of use to ask Ehrman his views on the subject, since you cannot possibly get an honest answer.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

    • 2011-04-04 02:37:47 UTC - 02:37 | Permalink

      Rich,

      The fact that you can posit a motive for Ehrman to dissemble does not seem to me to be sufficient basis to conclude either that he has or that he would.

      • 2011-04-04 05:59:13 UTC - 05:59 | Permalink

        Well, apparently he is going to write a book on the jesus legends. It sounds like a book that will directly address some of your questions. I have no idea when it will be out, but it will be nice for you. It is not often that a person we wish to get a view on… writes a book on that exact topic. You lucked out.

        Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  • 2011-04-03 14:45:50 UTC - 14:45 | Permalink

    I have a few more questions I would like to put to Earl Doherty in response to his replies here. Others here no doubt have their own questions. Feel free to post them here.

    • Bob Carlson
      2011-04-05 07:00:09 UTC - 07:00 | Permalink

      I wonder if he has yet read Jesus Potter, Harry Christ and, if so, what his overall impression might be.

    • 2011-04-08 07:28:44 UTC - 07:28 | Permalink

      Greetings, Mr. Doherty. I appreciate your honest scholarship and your politeness, though I do not agree with your position. I have two questions.

      First of all, you refer twice in this interview to a degree you received in ancient history and classical languages. What university did you receive this degree from and in what year?

      Second, in your book, regarding the verse Romans 1:3 you write “Perhaps Paul is using kata to refer to something like ‘in the sphere of the flesh’ and ‘in the sphere of the spirit.’ This is a suggestion put forward by CK Barrett.” However Barrett in his book The Epistle to the Romans specifically says that Paul is refering to Jesus being a desscendant of the David in the realm of the flesh and not of the spirit. Likewise you refer to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament as support your interpretation of the verse refering to a realm of the spirit. But here is what the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament actually says:

      “Kata sarka distinguishes this as an earthly and human relationship from a relationship of a different kind. Sare stands for the sphere of man.”

      So both of your sources interpret this verse as meaning exactly what you insist it doesn’t mean, namely that Paul thought Jesus to be a flesh-and-blood descendant of David. Why the discrepancy?

      Thank you for your time.

      -Alex Popkin

      • 2011-04-08 08:39:40 UTC - 08:39 | Permalink

        Alex, I advise you to read a comment made on this blog by Nikos at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/time-wasting-and-mythicism/#comment-14685

        The pertinent passage there is this:

        In my own professional work I have touched on a variety of different
        fields. I’ve done my work in mathematical linguistics, for example,
        without any professional credentials in mathematics; in this subject
        I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I’ve
        often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical
        linguistics at mathematics seminars and colloquia. No one has ever
        asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on
        these subjects; the mathematicians couldn’t care less. What they
        want to know is what I have to say. No one has ever objected to my
        right to speak, asking whether I have a doctor’s degree in
        mathematics, or whether I have taken advanced courses in the
        subject. That would never have entered their minds. They want to
        know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting
        or not, whether better approaches are possible – the discussion
        dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it.

        I will leave you to read the original post to see who is the author of those words.

        Your post — and your related post on another blog in which you launch an ad hominem on Earl Doherty in relation to your question — is interesting for two reasons.

        1. On an FRDB discussion Doherty supported his argument for certain Greek passages by reference to scholarly dictionaries and was attacked by “spin” for playing a dancing game with different versions. Yet that appears to be the very game you yourself are playing with Doherty.

        2. Instead of your cheap focus at the person (that is, ad hominem) you ought to address the arguments and engage in a discussion of the meaning of the phrase in a genuinely critical spirit. You have no doubt read Doherty’s arguments on the meaning and use of “according to the flesh” in full (or you surely would not be disputing them publicly) so why not critically present your case to show where Doherty is wrong. Of if you have not read Doherty’s arguments in full, why not ask to see if he can defend his interpretation?

        Do you have the guts to take on the issue or are you playing avoidance games by focusing attention “ad hominem”?

        • 2011-04-09 03:20:51 UTC - 03:20 | Permalink

          Greetings, Mr. Godfrey. You have given me a lot to respond to.

          First of all, I have never posted about Mr. Doherty on any other blog. As for the charging that I’m focusing ad hominem, I don’t believe that I am doing so. I have asked Mr. Doherty what university he attended. What’s wrong with asking this question? Why is it so difficult to answer? (Based on your response, I’m assuming that Mr. Doherty has never answered the question publicly.) I am asked for my academic credentials on an almost daily basis and I have never been offended by the request.

          Second, you link to an FRDB discussion board, claiming that Doherty supported his argument, but I don’t see him doing so on that board at all. Instead I see him lobbing insults at the questioner, saying that the questioner is not “rational” and “has never read anything”, and saying that answering the question would be “a waste of time”. Hardly a stirring defense. The fact is

          Now what is Doherty’s argument about the use of the phrase “kata sarx”, which in Rom 1:3 translates to “according to the flesh”? I’ve read his book and I find Doherty claiming that this phrase refers to something in a “lower celestial sphere”, but he gives no reason to believe that Paul or any other early Christian believed in a “lower celestial sphere”. Other than that, Doherty complains that the verse is “cryptic” but doesn’t explain why it is cryptic. The phrase “kata sarx” means “in the realm of the flesh” and Doherty offers no reason why it should mean anything else. As I’ve pointed out, the two books that Doherty himself cites for this particular argument both say the exact opposite of what he’s claiming regarding the phrase “kata sarx”. They both say that this clearly references human descent in the flesh and nothing else. So why is the phrase cryptic?

          I am more than happy to look at any argument for why “kata sarx” should be interpreted the way that Mr. Doherty interprets it, but I need to actually see some arguments. Mr. Doherty’s book does not provide any. If you provide the arguments, I’ll follow them. If the best you can do is insult me and announce that it’s not worth answering my questions, then I’ll assume that there is no defense of this particular argument.

          Good day.
          Alex

          • 2011-04-09 04:32:09 UTC - 04:32 | Permalink

            You certainly have posted “snarky” (your own description) comments about Doherty and comments related to this one, even linking to this blog post here, on christianforums.com. So for you to try to quibble over my mistake in refering to that forum as a ‘blog’ and for you to insist you are not out to attack Doherty personally does not suggest much about your own credibility. You have also attacked me there in a follow up post.

            You say my comment gave you a lot to respond to, yet you do not respond to what I wrote. You only launch more ad hominems against Doherty and demonstrate you either have not read Doherty’s explanation or have failed to read it with any comprehension. Your attempt at a rebuttal here is full of non sequiturs, confusion and avoidance of what Doherty and I myself have already pointed out.

            Doherty has responded to you here and you have not replied to his critiques of your presentation of his argument, so you do not appear to be interested in an honest discussion of the issues.

            Ad hominem means focussing on the person instead of the argument. That is exactly what you are doing. There may be any number of reasons a person does not wish to advertise their past associations.

            Would you like to identify yourself?

          • 2011-04-09 14:28:01 UTC - 14:28 | Permalink

            To the one who uses the name “AlexBP”, and who uses phrases remarkably similar to another one or two persons who appear to be viscerally dedicated to attacking Doherty personally on various web venues:

            You say you have read Doherty’s book but if that is so, then I suggest your question indicates a failure at reading comprehension. Can you recapitulate Doherty’s argument in chapter 13 of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man and pages 87 to 90 of the same book and explain where and how his arguments fail to answer the questions you raise about the translation or meaning of “kata sarka”? By recapitulating in summary form you have the opportunity to demonstrate that you really have read Doherty’s book and really do understand the arguments.

            I also wonder why you refuse to address my own comment about credentials, and what you find objectionable to Doherty’s own statement in his Preface where he writes:

            My debt to traditional New Testament scholarship remains immense, while that to other scholars who work outside mainstream confines has increased over the years, and I will try to give creid where credit is due. As might be expected, “The Jesus Puzzle”, book and website, have been challenged on the basis of my perceived lack of proper or sufficient credentials, and my non-involvement in the established world of academia. But good argument and evidence ought to be able to stand on their own and be evaluated on their own merits. . . .

            AlexBP, what do you find objectionable here?

            Doherty continues:

            On the other hand, it is natural to want some idea of proficiency in considering the work of an author in any field, so I will end here on a personal note that was lacking in the original book. My formal education consisted of a B.A. with Distinction in Ancient History and Classical Languages, (Greek and Latin, the former being essential in any research into the New Testament). Unfortunately, I was forced to suspend my M.A. program due to ill health reasons and did not return. After a number of years in which I was pursuing another, very different occupation, I took up my own private study of Christian origins and related disciplines. After a period of 14 years, I created The Jesus Puzzle website and soon after, “The Jesus Puzzle” book, shortly followed by a second publication, “Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel’s ‘The Case for Christ'”.

  • Evan
    2011-04-04 08:36:03 UTC - 08:36 | Permalink

    I would like to ask Earl Doherty about his views of the authorship of the group of “authentic” Pauline epistles or hauptbriefe. What evidence convinces him that the Apostle Paul of Tarsus was a genuine historical figure, and in what way is it different, qualitatively or quantitatively, from the evidence for the historical Jesus of Nazareth?

    • 2011-04-04 10:46:54 UTC - 10:46 | Permalink

      Boy, nothing like a simple question to start things off. To answer it would take a book in itself. It’s really a topic for a proper discussion board, which I am not too sure is what Neil envisions his blog as being, or wants it to be. So let me just itemize a few points, rather than argue them in any detail. Acts may be thoroughly unreliable as providing an actual history of the early Christian movement, but given an authentic Paul and a first century Christianity, the documentary record and its content as a whole has always struck me as much more coherent than what I would call ultra-radical alternatives which discard Paul and essentially shove everything into the second century. . . . . . . . .

      Earl Doherty

      NOTE by Neil Godfrey: I have removed the body of Earl’s reply and placed it as a post in its own right here. It looks more like a post-topic best discussed on its own page.

  • 2011-04-04 11:06:00 UTC - 11:06 | Permalink

    WOW! I am completely impressed that Neil was able to get the actual Earl Doherty to his web site.

    Earl, I have enjoyed your site, and Jesus puzzle novel for years.

    Just wanted to give you a shout out!

    Cheers! richgriese.net

  • Pingback: Sifting a historical Paul from a nonhistorical Jesus: Doherty’s position « Vridar

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  • 2011-04-08 16:03:04 UTC - 16:03 | Permalink

    Alex: Second, in your book, regarding the verse Romans 1:3 you write “Perhaps Paul is using kata to refer to something like ‘in the sphere of the flesh’ and ‘in the sphere of the spirit.’ This is a suggestion put forward by CK Barrett.” However Barrett in his book The Epistle to the Romans specifically says that Paul is refering to Jesus being a desscendant of the David in the realm of the flesh and not of the spirit. Likewise you refer to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament as support your interpretation of the verse refering to a realm of the spirit. But here is what the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament actually says:

    “Kata sarka distinguishes this as an earthly and human relationship from a relationship of a different kind. Sare stands for the sphere of man.”

    So both of your sources interpret this verse as meaning exactly what you insist it doesn’t mean, namely that Paul thought Jesus to be a flesh-and-blood descendant of David. Why the discrepancy?

    It would be easier to answer questions if they weren’t so garbled. If you’ve read my material, you have either misread it or are misrepresenting it. (Believe me, I’ve encountered lots of both from lots of people.) I don’t have to check my text to know that your quote from me,

    “Perhaps Paul is using kata to refer to something like ‘in the sphere of the flesh’ and ‘in the sphere of the spirit.’ This is a suggestion put forward by CK Barrett.”

    is NOT “in regard to Romans 1:3”, it is to both verses 3 and 4, the latter containing the phrase “kata pneuma”.

    So your rejoinder that “However Barrett in his book The Epistle to the Romans specifically says that Paul is refering to Jesus being a desscendant of the David in the realm of the flesh and not of the spirit.” is simply silly. I said nothing about Jesus and David having anything to do with “kata pneuma”.

    Your reference to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is even more garbled. When you can manage to frame questions with a modicum of coherence, I might consider answering them.

    Earl Doherty

  • 2011-04-09 08:34:50 UTC - 08:34 | Permalink

    I have placed posts from “AlexBPop” on moderation. He/she has declared publicly on another site (linked in one of my responses to comment #6 above, and where he keeps his own running commentary on his and Earl’s comments in this blog) that his intent is to repeat his questions. Repeating questions is fine if someone indicates they failed to hear or recall what you asked, but since BPop has received responses here from both Earl and me and has ignored what has been said in relation to his questions, yet has insisted on repeating the same questions — it is clear that he is not interested in honest or respectful dialogue.


    I have also asked others to either demonstrate a comprehension of the arguments they claim to be answering in their comments or to refrain from repetitive assertions of the same theme in every comment.

    I have no wish for serious comments to be swamped beneath numerous replies that fail to address the issues under discussion and that indicate an inability to frame a reasonable evidence-based argument or simple honest question.


  • Pingback: Earl Doherty’s forerunner? Paul-Louis Couchoud and the birth of Christ « Vridar

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