2011-05-25

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

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

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.

Doherty has approximately a three and a quarter page discussion about the question of “James, the brother of the Lord” in chapter 6, with each page around about 500 words at a guess. It is only in the final “quarter page” section that Doherty introduces the evidence of the later (post-Pauline) epistles of James and Jude. There is no reference to Acts at all.

And what does Doherty say of these epistles in relation to Galatians 1:19? Perhaps McGrath should be asked that question so he can assure his readers that he at no point meant to say that Doherty interprets Paul through the later letters, and that what he wrote was only the result of a late night effort and he should not be held to anything said under those conditions.

Here is how Doherty introduces the discussion of the evidence of those later epistles:

But there are further indications that early Christians knew of no sibling relationship between James and Jesus. The New Testament epistle of James opens this way: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (p. 63).

Two paragraphs follow. Neither Paul nor Galatians appears in either of them. I have outlined Doherty’s entire argument in chapter 6, including his discussion of the Brother of the Lord verse in Galatians 1:19, in an earlier post for quick reference. I had initially hoped (in vain, as it turns out) that by making Doherty’s argument transparent online that McGrath would have confined himself within the bounds of honesty in whatever he said about the arguments found there.

But back to the prediction discussion I began with. (This is a separate discussion from Doherty’s argument per se.) The problem with the historical Jesus hypothesis is that it keeps running up against evidence that has to be explained away to make it work. One would expect more references to the life and sayings of the earthly Jesus in the New Testament epistles, but this lack is (quite seriously) explained away by suggesting that everyone knew about all of that so there was no need or interest in referring to any of it in any of the letters. Absence of evidence for a knowledge of a historical Jesus is thus twisted into evidence for knowledge of the historical Jesus. If James were the sibling of Jesus, we could reasonably expect there to be some indicator of that in a letter claiming to be by James, in another claiming to be by a brother of James, and in a narrative that presents James as a leader in the church. There are other anomalies, too, that Doherty has covered in his chapter — the one I linked to above.


Enhanced by Zemanta

  • 2011-05-25 22:34:08 UTC - 22:34 | Permalink

    Wow, now that is dishonesty – taking a comment I wrote to a commenter in response to that individual’s comment, and here construing it as though it were said to Doherty and/or in reference to what he wrote.

    Wow.

    • Joseph
      2011-05-25 23:21:46 UTC - 23:21 | Permalink

      “Wow, now that is dishonesty”

      Please explain how you’ve discerned any dishonesty on Neil’s part, as opposed to mere mistakenness. I don’t see either, to be honest. Your comment refers to mythicists in general, and since Earl Doherty belongs to that group, the comment is implicitly directed at him.

    • 2011-05-25 23:29:58 UTC - 23:29 | Permalink

      James, to be fair, you said that mythicists behave in the way you describe; you make no exceptions, so you would be including Doherty in your criticism. It doesn’t matter who you wrote your comment in response to because your criticism was applied to all mythicists, especially those that use the epistles to support the mythical Jesus (i.e. Doherty). Had you said “It is entertaining to watch a mythicist such as yourself…” then your response would not be so comprehensive, but you used a blanket statement. If someone had said “Democrats are stupid”, and a liberal friend of theirs took offence, they couldn’t get away from that insult by saying it wasn’t directed at that friend. So I don’t this Neil is being dishonest here, but I don’t think you were being either, James. However, blanket statements without nuance don’t bode well.

    • 2011-05-26 00:01:32 UTC - 00:01 | Permalink

      Cute, James. You are a master of sophistry and word games. Your failure to declare unequivocally that you did not mean to imply or suggest to your readers that Doherty or any other mythicist argues as you say says it all. Recently you took the trouble to edit a post to remove an error of fact so you could save face. How about doing the same here?

      You have frequently posted falsehoods about a particular argument I alone have made without naming me directly (you refer to me as “mythicists”). When I attempt to point out the falsehood in what you are saying you again try to infer you are not addressing me particularly. Yet this is a lie because no-one else has advanced the argument you are distorting.

      I have pointed out to you other blatant falsehoods you have written about Doherty’s book and you have had the gall to baldly deny any falsehood. You are not an honest man.

      • 2011-05-26 01:42:33 UTC - 01:42 | Permalink

        Neil: “…(you refer to me as ‘mythicists’).”

        The fallacy of lumping rears its ugly head again. It would be unfair and fallacious for us to say historicists write single-paragraph dismissive, misleading, clairvoyant reviews on Amazon just because one did. Nor should we claim that all crypto-apologist bloggers beat up on straw men just because one does.

        You would think McGrath’s academic friends would intervene and tell him to cool it before he harms his reputation any further. Yet he just keeps digging that hole…

    • 2011-05-26 00:02:01 UTC - 00:02 | Permalink

      I have recently made some comments about the differences between historiography, sciences and biblical studies, and focussed on a methodological point in my post here. Your inability to seriously engage in that discussion is also noted. Do you really teach students?

    • 2011-05-26 06:23:03 UTC - 06:23 | Permalink

      McGrath’s false accusation in a series of comments on his post about Doherty came as a direct response to words by beallen0417. McGrath clearly distinguishes between his response to “beallen0417” addressing this person by their “name”, and “mythicists” in a following paragraph.

      But not even beallen0417 said the things of which McGrath accuses “mythicists”, and in the weasle-word accusation McGrath addresses a key point by Doherty, the tyranny of the Gospels in our interpretations of Paul.

      McGrath has proven he can be most direct and clear when he wants to be. But he has also demonstrated time and again that he prefers to play weasle words and outright falsehoods when it comes to his vendetta against mythicism.

      • Evan
        2011-05-26 08:15:39 UTC - 08:15 | Permalink

        Is weasel one of those US/Commonwealth words that changes spelling? Anyway, yes, my post to McGrath appears to have completely sailed over his head. My response to him:

        “Dr. McGrath, later Christian doctrine is not being cited as evidence that “supports” mythicism. It’s being cited as evidence that there was no uniform understanding of the text that you are using to prooftext the historical Jesus.

        You should be able to understand this. You don’t think that Mark was written in 40 CE (at least I hope you don’t), but you are happy to cite someone who does when you criticize Doherty, and you do this with the intent to show that there is a variety of opinions, some of which if they are true, are falsifiers for Doherty’s thesis.”

        He has completely ignored this cogent reply and chosen to highlight another, separate point that I brought up in that post.

        • 2011-05-26 21:59:37 UTC - 21:59 | Permalink

          I get the impression that he simply cannot register any argument that is outside his box. His response to Doherty’s logic was to simply say that he’s rather follow the conclusions of his peers; he reads Doherty, and comments like yours, but his eyes must merely glaze over while he prepares for some hook by which to “rebut” everything — or rather denounce everything (there is no rebuttal) — he reads. He can only assimilate information and arguments if they conform to what he has always believed.

          I was once very close to someone who was deeply offended by a view I had come to embrace. This person honestly said that what I was thinking was against everything they had always believed. That was the reason given for rejecting it. Perhaps a scholar may not express themselves so bluntly or crudely as that, but then scholars are cleverer at kidding themselves that they are more rational than they really are.

  • Steven Carr
    2011-05-26 00:46:22 UTC - 00:46 | Permalink

    I take it McGrath has no answer to the obvious fact that even the Gospels and Acts never connect this James the church leader with any James the brother of Jesus.

    All he can do is complain that people are pointing out this fact, that no link is made in the Gospels/Acts between James the church leader and James the brother of Jesus, when he has harmonised Paul/the Gospels by claiming they are talking about the same person.

    Isn’t it annoying when people point out there is no support in the text for these harmonisations?

    Next , people will be pointing out that there is no support for Matthew/Levi being the same person, and that (the horror) the lists of disciples are contradictory.

    When will mythicists realise that Paul/the Gospels are to be harmonised by True Scholars in the way that the Synoptics/John is harmonised by fundies?

  • Pingback: James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation « Vridar

  • Pingback: The fallacy that invalidates historical Jesus studies, conspiracy theories and creationism « Vridar

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *