The Nazareth Myth: Salm responds to McGrath and O’Neill

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by Tim Widowfield

Well worth reading are Salm’s responses to the ignorance and misrepresentation peddled by McGrath and O’Neill about Salm’s work The Myth of Nazareth.

First he addresses the criticism that he is supposedly arguing there was a hiatus of settlement of a few decades at the time Jesus was supposed to have been there. Salm in fact presents a comprehensive history of the archaeological finds (as published by archaeologists) in the Nazareth region from the Stone, Chalcolithic, Early-Middle-Late Bronze and Iron ages and through to Byzantine times, cites the unequivocal archaeological evidence when settlememt ceased in the Nazareth region, and demonstrates the way this evidence came to be subtly re-written by Catholic apologists to give misleading impressions of continual settlement.

Further comments here, here and here.

(McGrath’s most intellectually incisive response at the end of it all is his usual: I’m not going to accept anything you say because if you disagree with my peers you are just like a creationist.)

  • 2011-05-07 15:39:51 UTC - 15:39 | Permalink

    McG: “There is a good reason why it is hard to change scholar’s [sic] minds. Academia thrives from the counterbalance between creative new ideas and rigorous examination of them.”

    Since when did “rigorous examination” include personal attacks, misrepresentation of evidence, armchair psychoanalysis, ridicule, sarcasm, snide comments, and appeals to authority?

    • 2011-05-08 21:25:21 UTC - 21:25 | Permalink

      McGrath is a Christian by virtue of a personal calling from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was defined as a person before the advent of modern scholarly values and was big, and at the time when damning all unbelievers to hell was big. This modern secularist and humanist tripe about normative logical processes with intellectual opponents is but a passing 20th/21st century whim.

      • Evan
        2011-05-09 03:06:58 UTC - 03:06 | Permalink

        Yes, Neil, I noted that too. It’s not hard to see that McGrath’s entire self-definition hinges on there having been a historical Jesus to follow. Therefore, he is hardly an objective scholar.

        I once pointed out to him that the experience of reading the Acts of Thomas and the Acts of Paul and Thecla was very similar to the experience of reading Acts of the Apostles. I asked him why he could label the acts of Thomas a fiction, but was unable to do so for the Acts of the Apostles. He never gave any response. One suspects that he could question no further without threatening his self-definition.

        • 2011-05-09 05:23:12 UTC - 05:23 | Permalink

          Evan: “One suspects that he could question no further without threatening his self-definition.”

          That would explain a great deal. I have noted for some time now the extraordinary nature of presumption in New Testament scholarship. We’re not dealing with simple assumption for the purposes of argument. In some ways we have even moved beyond “historical fact,” if by that we mean “interpreted data.”

          The reaction we see when we approach the holy minefield of the Historical Jesus surpasses anything we might reasonably expect. And that minefield has a much larger perimeter than the mainstream would admit. Just start questioning any of E.P. Sanders’ indisputable facts and see how long it takes for somebody to call you a crank, a crackpot, or a rank amateur.

          That minefield keeps any non-believing scholars in line. They know that certain things are taboo in NT studies. Sometimes you can watch as the defenders of the faith move the barbed wire and redefine the perimeter. I would cite as an example Bart Ehrman’s fascinating article in the Autumn 1990 JBL, entitled “Cephas and Peter.” It’s well worth reading, but just to summarize here he pretty much concludes that although the names have roughly the same meaning, they are not the same person. He writes:

          All the same, we can no longer afford to overlook the peculiar results of this study. When Paul mentions Cephas, he apparently does not mean Simon Peter, the disciple of Jesus.

          In Ehrman’s other, later works, notably his popular press treatment of Peter, Paul, and Mary, you won’t hear him make this claim. Is this because he changed his mind, or because he discovered firsthand this subject is now inside the minefield? I cannot help but suspect the latter, because the final paragraph of his 1990 journal article lays out the devastating conclusions:

          The implications of this conclusion will be obvious to anyone who has worked at any length with the NT materials. For those who have not, we can simply mention the following: (1) Paul would not have gone to Jerusalem, three years after his “conversion” (Gal 2:18-20), in order to learn more about the life of Jesus from one of his closest disciples, Peter. Instead, he would have gone to confer with Cephas, a leader of the Jerusalem church, perhaps concerning missionary strategy. (2) Peter may not have even been present at the Jerusalem Conference in which Paul’s Gentile mission was approved and sanctioned (Gal 2:1-10). (3) No longer would we know if Peter was accompanied by his wife on his missionary journeys (1 Cor 9:5), nor whether he visited Corinth. (4) The confrontation at Antioch (Gal 2:11-14) would not have been between Peter and Paul, that is, between Jesus’ closest disciple and his most avid apostle. It would have been between a Jerusalem and a Pauline form of Christianity, pure and simple. (5) Finally, there would remain no NT evidence of Peter’s presence in Antioch, where tradition ascribes to him the first bishopric (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.36).

  • 2011-05-10 10:01:34 UTC - 10:01 | Permalink

    I’ve finally been censored from McGrath’s blog–for exactly what reason I’m not sure, but I choose to look upon it as a badge of honor. McGrath’s Mythicism Meets Mandaism page had moved into a discussion of alleged “Hellenistic” evidence from Nazareth. McGrath wrote today:

    Peter, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. The IAA IAA reports indicate what we would have expected, that most of the evidence for habitation at Nazareth post-dates the time of Jesus. This is to be expected, since we are given the impression by textual sources that it was not an important village, and we also know that as a result of Christian interest in sacred sites in the Holy Land, it became an increasingly important site in later times. Both reports I have linked to indicate that there is some evidence from other times periods, and one specifically mentions remains from the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. Nothing that Rene Salm has written suggests either that the consensus about these artifacts is completely off the mark, nor that he has an alternative dating method that allows for the greater precision necessary so as to be able to conclude that Nazareth was uninhabited in the time in which the story of Jesus is set. . . (May 9, 2011 20:32 AM)

    The following is my reply:

    I have emailed E. Stern (who did the pottery reading) regarding the small jar rim (about 2 inches high) which was claimed as “Hellenistic.” If true, it would be the very first Hellenistic evidence from Nazareth. Unfortunately, the information from these summary IAA reports is non-diagnostic as to specifics, though valuable for background and as a step to (hopefully) more information. In my book, there are discussions of diagnostic vs. non-diagnostic ‘evidence.’ The distinction is ignored by the tradition, and claims are often quickly accepted as fact, with no research, verification, or even description of the evidence–as in this case. However, even were the piece Hellenistic (which I am hardly ready to grant), such a solitary artefact could not be given much weight, for people often have a few objects with them that are from former times, even as any house today will have a few antiques.

    This is the only “Hellenistic” artefact claimed from the two reports linked by Dr. McGrath. The Atrash IAA report is from the Nazareth Village Farm area and contains nothing which indicates Hellenistic or even “Early” Roman remains.–R. Salm

    The above was visible on McGrath’s blog for maybe thirty minutes. Then, poof! Gone. So it goes in the hypersensitive world of Christian blogging these days.–Rene Salm

    • 2011-05-10 10:23:53 UTC - 10:23 | Permalink

      Hmm, zee plot sickens. . . My post is now BACK UP on McGrath’s page! Go figure. . .–Rene

    • Steven Carr
      2011-05-10 15:55:55 UTC - 15:55 | Permalink

      Nothing that Rene Salm has written suggests either that the consensus about these artifacts is completely off the mark, nor that he has an alternative dating method that allows for the greater precision necessary so as to be able to conclude that Nazareth was uninhabited in the time in which the story of Jesus is set

      McGrath piles on to people calling them ‘creationists’ and all sorts of things, and all he can say is that there is not enough precision in the evidence to date things?

      Just where is all this evidence that you have to be a creationist kook to ignore?

  • Steven Carr
    2011-05-10 16:01:45 UTC - 16:01 | Permalink

    This is to be expected, since we are given the impression by textual sources that it was not an important village…

    Which textual sources would those be?

    • 2011-05-10 17:50:55 UTC - 17:50 | Permalink

      I’ll be the dummy and bite here. Why, the sources that don’t mention Nazareth, of course! What clearer evidence can anyone want that the modest town existed?

    • Robert
      2011-05-10 17:51:04 UTC - 17:51 | Permalink

      Perhaps the same ones that talk about regular old Jesus. However, you need the secret Vatican Library pass to see them…

  • 2011-05-10 17:59:45 UTC - 17:59 | Permalink

    Note how often — for starters try amazon and explodingourcakemix — one reads “rebuttals” of Salm’s book by quoting an archaeologist who says he disagrees with Salm. The specific claims, the actual data, are as a rule sidestepped.

    I see the same pattern continuing as I first observed on the original Crosstalk discussion forum: opinion and assertion always running afoul against the detailed evidence advanced by Salm from the professional publications.

  • 2011-05-12 04:17:04 UTC - 04:17 | Permalink

    Very Strange to see a site like René Salm’s that don’t have RSS feeds. If you know this guy you might recommend to him that he add a RSS feed to his site. Without an RSS feed people cannot keep up with his new items, and his stuff will end up being read by very few people.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  • 2011-05-29 06:56:06 UTC - 06:56 | Permalink

    I have moved a comment from Evan to a new post I have created to better accommodate it — here.

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