Daily Archives: 2012-02-21 22:01:39 UTC

Response #1 to the good doctor’s “review” (sic) of a bit of Earl Doherty’s chapter ten

Scene from the first (Jewish) part of the Ascension of Isaiah. (Imagine Dr McGrath sitting on the side watching that mythicist being sawn in half 😉

(belatedly — about 50 mins after original posting — added quotation from ‘The Origin of the Samaritans’ concerning the date of AoI)

Coming hard on the heels of Dr McGrath’s public display of professional incompetence over his failure to understand the elementary principles of the Documentary Hypothesis, this is a double embarrassment for the professor. He demonstrates total confusion about the date of the composition of the various parts of the Ascension of Isaiah and in the end resorts entirely to the one passage many commentators are agreed is a late Christian interpolation and that has no relevance at all as a rebuttal to Earl Doherty’s arguments about the earlier portions of the text. For good measure he concludes with a swipe at Doherty’s use of the word “midrash” (yes, again) despite the fact that his use is in complete accord with what Jewish scholars of midrash themselves, not to mention a raft of his own New Testament colleagues, say about the Gospels.

Dr McGrath misleadingly titles his post Review of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man chapter 10 part two. It is not a review of the second part of the chapter by any means, and Dr McGrath effectively admits this. He left off the review of the first part of this chapter after covering the first 12 pages. But now he skips across the next ten pages to focus on the last 7.

I’ve finally found some time to post my second blog entry about  chapter 10 of Earl Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus. Here’s a link to my first post about this chapter. Ironically, even though I have written far more already on the first 1/6 of the book than one would ever find written about an entire book in a printed review, some mythicists have still complained that there are details in the book that I have not addressed.

To paraphrase an expression Dr McGrath has himself used often enough himself: Just writing lots of tirades against a book chapter by chapter does not mean that one has addressed anything more than one or two points per chapter. I have in past posts demonstrated with a comparison of Dr McGrath’s “reviews” and Doherty’s own words that McGrath has chosen to entirely overlook the central arguments and key points of chapters, and even baldly claim that Doherty does not say or reference things that he most certainly does say and reference. The fact is, the complaints against Dr McGrath’s reviews have focussed on the intellectual dishonesty that runs through them all in that they regularly accuse Doherty of not saying or addressing things he clearly does say and address, and of creating completely misleading ideas of Doherty’s arguments by omitting entire arguments that belie McGrath’s false allegations.

Since those complaints are a smokescreen trying to distract from the fact that the book’s shortcomings are so bad that they undermine anything positive that could be said about the book, presumably there is no point in trying any longer to be as comprehensive as possible.

One has to ask for whose benefit Dr McGrath has been writing these reviews. He says here the complaints “of a few mythicists” have led him to change his approach. Was he really doing these reviews all along primarily for the benefit “of a few mythicists”? I doubt it. I suspect McGrath has finally tired of attempting to maintain the appearance of comprehensive chapter by chapter reviews — efforts that were regularly rewarded with prompt exposures of his incompetence (one dare not suggest dishonesty) with each review — and now is going to select bits here and there in the book he feels he can use as a springboard to attack mythicism.

In other words, if readers of his reviews were given a completely false impression of Doherty’s book till now, from now on they will not be given any overview of the chapters at all.

I don’t know how such an exercise can possibly be called “a review”.

What good points there have been in the book thus far have typically been things that one can find in other books which consistently use a scholarly approach. And so from this point onward readers of this blog can expect me to focus entirely on the book’s many shortcomings, and can look elsewhere for other information.

Dr McGrath appears here to be saying that there is absolutely nothing Doherty has written that is “good” that is not found in other authors. Everything original Doherty has written is “bad”.

I have always thought it a truism that when you start to find nothing good or nothing bad in another then that is a sure warning signal that you are letting prejudice dictate your outlook. One is reminded of book-burning rationales. Anything bad in the book deserves to be burnt; anything good is redundant so the book should be burnt anyway.

This chapter at long last brings into the foreground something that is central to Doherty’s book: the question of where Jesus was believed to have been crucified (on earth vs. in a celestial realm). Also central to Doherty’s argument is a work known as The Ascension of Isaiah, which some have regarded as originally having been a Jewish text which Christian redactors made additions and changes to in order to adapt it to a Christian viewpoint, while others would say that the work is better viewed as resulting from the combination of Jewish and Christian works originally composed separately.

Dr McGrath appears to be confused here. There is no either-or of which I am aware. Scholars are agreed that the first 5 chapters are primarily an early Jewish text; subsequently Christian texts were written of the Vision and later still other Christians combined these and interpolated additional Christian passages into both halves.

That is, the first 5 chapters are virtually unanimously believed to be a first century Jewish text about the martyrdom of Isaiah. The remaining chapters are a compilation of later Christian additions. They speak mainly of the Vision of Isaiah. When these Christian and Jewish texts appear to have been combined into a single work a Christian redactor interpolated a sprinkling of verses throughout the Jewish section and added a large section, chapters 11:2-22, to the earlier Christian account of Isaiah’s vision. That is a very simplified but essentially correct overview. McGrath himself later says the textual history is very complex, but actually Doherty does address and explain the complexity very well — a pity Dr McGrath did not take the time to learn from him.

It is easy to overlook Dr McGrath’s apparent confusion at this stage of the post but later on we will see that it should be taken as a warning indicator that there is much more to come. Dr McGrath clearly has never seriously studied the AoI before and there is much evidence he is struggling to make a coherent argument. (It took me quite some time and re-reading many commentaries before I could be sure I could grasp the many references to the various manuscripts in the different languages, of the AoI, but the basics are not difficult to follow.) In the end Dr McGrath will rely for his own “rebuttal” of Doherty entirely on the one passage all scholars declare to be a very late second century forgery that is completely irrelevant to Earl Doherty’s argument.

He continues: read more »

Appeal to Vridar readers re Dr McGrath

Dr McGrath has a bee in his bonnet about mythicism and says a lot of crazy things about it and anyone who presents an argument for it or (in my own case) even presents an argument that leaves room for it as a valid possibility.

This sort of response to my views took me a bit of getting used to and I look back and see there are some things I said or ways I said things that I have come to regret.

It is clear that Dr McGrath relies upon ad hominem, personal attacks and innuendo, to make his case. I cannot say I have always remained patient in all of my responses. Sometimes I have expressed even the mildest sarcasm on his blog and have been met with pounding of reprimand from Dr McGrath for my tone. (Meanwhile, of course, others will stoop to foul language and crude insults against me without a blink from him.)

I think it is important to stand up to Dr McGrath’s fallacies and hold him accountable for his assertions. It is important to have it on record that his claims do not go without a response.

But what I would ask is that, even if it is against our clearest judgement and the facts of the evidence before us, that we refrain from giving Dr McGrath the sort of material that he is eagerly looking for from us — that is, insults in kind, abusive remarks, character attacks. He has said, for example, that he cannot post on this blog because people abuse him. Well, I don’t think that was the case at all, nor is it the real reason.

Let the records and the evidence speak for themselves. We need do nothing more than argue the case, present the evidence, and let others draw their own conclusions about his character and integrity.

The main reason is not so much for the benefit of any exchanges with Dr McGrath — he will never change his spots no matter what. But to me it is important that this blog be seen as a reasonable and professional sounding voice in the debate in the wider community.

I don’t, however, reject any good-natured humour or satire. Dr McGrath is not averse to  having a laugh at mythicists from time to time and I am sure he is big enough to laugh at his own side of the fence with good natured comedy, too.

I know I have said things I regret and cannot make promises for the future. But I’d like to try anyway.

And I’m glad that there has been very little personal attack on Dr McGrath on this blog. I’m sure we can keep it that way.


Was Jesus “John the Baptist”?

For those of us who like to be stimulated with different views on Christian origins René Salm has translated and made available a 1956 essay by Georges Ory, Was Jesus “John the Baptist”?

This hypothesis reminds me of Robert M. Price’s suggestion that the two figures are doubles, or that Jesus was indeed something of a mythical hypostasis of John. (Unfortunately I forget the source for this discussion now — I welcome a reminder from anyone reading this.) Others — Roger Parvus and Hermann Detering, if I recall correctly, have had thought provoking views of the role of John the Baptist and Simon Magus.

I’ve had a less “psychological-anthropological” explanation for John the Baptist than Bob Price’s views, and have to admit I have never given enough sustained attention in the past to some of the views of Parvus and Detering. I know I have only covered one dimension of the evidence available — the midrashic literary. I wonder if the motif of a representative of the old, usually metaphorically rough in appearance, as the deliverer of one who ushers in the new creation and new world, is a deeply rooted cultural archetype found from the Epic of Gilgamesh right through to modern fiction and fables.

I may not always come away from reading radical new views being immediately convinced, but rarely do I ever come away without having been stimulated with new questions and avenues to explore.

So who was George Ory? read more »