Daily Archives: 2011-05-25 18:12:07 UTC

James Brother of the Lord, Porky Pies and Problems for the Historical Jesus Hypothesis

A good reason to accept the theory of evolution is that it predicts what we will find in the fossil record and its predictions have not yet failed. No one has found a rabbit fossil in pre-Cambrian rocks.

If James had been a sibling of Jesus and a leader in the Jerusalem church (along with Peter and John), then we can expect to find certain indicators of this in certain kinds of evidence. If our reasonable expectations (predictions) fail, then we have an obligation to reconsider our earlier conclusions that led to our expectations.

Dr James McGrath demonstrates an unfortunate oversight of this fundamental principle (and also shows a taste for porky pies) when he writes:

It is entertaining to watch mythicists, who claim to be guided by the principle that the epistles are earlier and more reliable, while the later Gospels essentially turned a mythical Christ into a historical figure, jettison that supposed principle whenever it becomes inconvenient. When evidence of a historical Jesus is highlighted in the epistles, they will appeal to Acts, or epistles likely to be later forgeries, in an attempt to avoid the clear meaning of Paul’s reference to James as Jesus’ brother.

Mainstream historical scholarship can be discussed in terms of whether it’s conclusions are justified upon the basis of its methods. Or one can discuss whether the methods themselves are valid. In the case of mythicism, neither is possible, because it has no consistent methods and no conclusions, just foreordained outcomes and the use of any tools selectively that will allow one to reach them.

Or to put it simpler still, why do you trust Acts to indicate what Paul meant by “James” yet reject it when it comes to what Paul meant by “Jesus”?

Firstly, James McGrath knows very well that Earl Doherty at no point based his interpretation of Galatians 1:19 on the evidence of later epistles or Acts. Some readers might even be excused for suspecting McGrath is being a bald-faced friar, so he might like to write a clarification of this comment to dispel any suggestion that he is telling an outright porky about Doherty’s argument. read more »

Explaining (the Gospel) Myths

Anthropology and the Bible

There can be little doubt that when we read the Gospels and the books of Revelation and Acts we encounter many stories that sound remarkably like myths. Prison doors opening by themselves to release heroes, dragons descending from heavens to pursue comely women upon earth, finding coins in caught fish, raising the dead and walking on water. Anyone (except fundamentalist apologists) will be prepared to admit that biblical stories like these really have originated from mythical imaginations and wider literary influences.

The question remains open, however, whether such mythical stories originated as attempts to interpret or convey the great significance and meaning of a historical subject (Jesus), or if they are in themselves attempts to create from scratch a mythical narrative persona (Jesus).

I think it is reasonable to argue the latter is the case if, after removing all the layers of the mythical, there is nothing left over to be called historical. (Contrast ancient Macedonian and Roman rulers with whom myths were associated. Peel away the myths and there is still plenty of historical person left there to study.)

But when it comes to Jesus, that argument does not explain the source of the mythical narratives in the first place. Philippe Wajdenbaum wrote a chapter for Anthropology and the Bible, edited by Emanual Pfoh (2010), that argues for a structural analysis of myths according to the research of “the father of modern anthropology”, Claude Lévi-Strauss.

If we embrace Lévi-Strauss’s view of myths, then the myths of early Christianity can only be understood and explained as mutations of similar myths in other cultures, and also in earlier Jewish culture. They are not unique. Their constitutional ties with other myths are integral to understanding them. read more »