Daily Archives: 2011-07-04 17:59:38 UTC

Demystifying R. Joseph Hoffmann, and the war over Bayes’ theorem

Some academic jargon is nothing more than the modern equivalent of a sorcerer’s mumbo jumbo — designed to awe while hiding the fact that there is really nothing meaningful on offer at all

Updated 5th July to add link to Richard Carrier's post taking Hoffmann to task.

R. Joseph Hoffmann has let a crotchety side to his nature show as he publicly attempts to humiliate a younger scholar who, in exchanges with the aging don, has exposed a dint of mediocrity in his intellect.

The casus belli is, at least on the surface, the place of Bayes’ theorem in historical Jesus studies.

Now Hoffmann’s writing is surely more renowned for its thick overlays of esoteric intellectual jargon and rhetoric than for its content. The reason is pure mathematics. More people can read his posts than can understand them. (Stanislav Andreski wrote that this sort of intellectual jargon as the modern equivalent of earlier efforts to bamboozle the uninitiated and impress the elite: various uses of medieval Latin, witch-doctor mumbo-jumbo, etc.)

But on the positive side, one does get a sense that he is thoroughly enjoying himself as he shows off his verbal wit, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a right to enjoy themselves (or “oneself”, as I am sure the don would prefer me say).

But what the hell is he trying to say when he burgeons like a Baroque artist doing abstract?

I’m sure he won’t like any attempt at simplification, but then why would any biblical scholar be bothered with a blog like mine when the guild does not even consider it to be an honest discussion of the Bible and Christian origins anyway.

All Hoffmann means to say is that he thinks: read more »

An even worse worst argument for the historicity of Jesus

It has been seriously asserted (mainstream biblical scholars should be taken seriously) that it would be “a miracle” if an ancient author, not living in Palestine, ever wrote a nonhistorical narrative about a nonhistorical Jesus that was set in real Palestinian towns and with characters bearing the names common among Palestinians.

Mind you, the same intellectual grants that most of the narrative in the Gospels is a mythologized overlay of whatever was a genuinely historical reminiscence. (Scholars even say the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels is not the historical Jesus but a “Christ of faith” who is, let’s be honest, a myth.) But we are left to understand that no such mythologization could possibly have extended to place or people names! They would have been sacrosanct from the beginning and remained so until the tale was finally set down in writing. Only then did various literate authors feel free to change some of the personal names and places. So disciples’ names vary, as do the locations of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. But a biblical scholar can publicly inform us that the “authenticity” of the personal and place names is itself a reliable indicator that the narrative can only derive from a genuine historical reminiscence.

Of course it is always possible to rationalize such differences. Dr James Crossley has said that he is perfectly happy to use conservative and evangelical arguments because statistically they must have something right and even Bart Erhman shares with James Patrick Holding an appeal to the same lack of imagination to  insist that Jesus was definitely historical.  So we find both scholars and anti-intellectuals using the same types of rationalizations to escape the consequences of their logical fallacies: Jesus cleansed the temple twice, Jesus was anointed twice, Jesus chose replacement disciples as some original choices inconveniently died off during his short ministry, a redactor could not make up his mind about two versions of the miraculous feeding so included them both, and so on.

No need for a miracle to create a symbolic pun read more »