by Neil Godfrey
Bart Ehrman accuses Earl Doherty of being “driven by convenience” and “simply claiming” that a Bible verse that contradicts his thesis “was not actually written by [Paul]“.
At the same time Ehrman admits that the particular verse is disputed by many scholars, but then in his ensuing discussion he hides (sic!) from his lay readers the reasons they dispute it. Ehrman even conveys the false impression that all of the scholarly dispute is merely over a few words tagged on at the end of the verse; but surely knows that this is (to use his own damning words from another context) “simply not true”. I find it impossible to imagine that his simplistic and misleading discussion of this text would ever pass peer review were it submitted to a scholarly journal. No matter. He obviously thinks it is all his lay readers need to know; and that information that is only partial, or that is suppressed entirely, will serve more effectively to undermine Doherty’s credibility.
Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians — which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.) (p. my emphasis)
Notice Ehrman is unambiguously “informing” his readers that it is entirely Doherty’s own self-serving opinion that “refuses” to allow a particular verse to be considered original to Paul. The only reason we are led to believe, and this is on the authority of the highly reputable popular author Bart Ehrman, that Doherty rejects the originality of this verse is “simply” because it “inconveniently” refutes his argument. Doherty “simply claims” a verse is a forgery because, Ehrman assures us, he finds it contradicts his argument.
This is not an isolated accusation. Earlier in his book Ehrman similarly claimed:
One way that some mythicists have gotten around the problem that this, our earliest Christian source, refers to the historical Jesus in several places is by claiming that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul’s writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes who wanted Paul’s readers to think that he referred to the historical Jesus. This approach to Paul can be thought of as historical reconstruction based on the principle of convenience. If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one’s views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you’re right.
This is a mischievous falsehood. Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells are NOT the ones who claim that certain verses are interpolations in order to “get around” contradictory evidence to establish their case. The arguments for the two verses they cite (I don’t know that there are any more than two) being interpolations are long-standing and well established by Ehrman’s own scholarly peers.
First I will quote what Doherty himself says with respect to his reasons for rejecting the authenticity of this verse in 1 Thessalonians.
In my next post I will return to Bart Ehrman’s own attempt to argue for this verse’s genuineness and demonstrate how Ehrman misleads his less well-informed readers about the real reasons many of his own scholarly peers believe the verse was indeed an interpolation.
In the opening chapter of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man Doherty sets out the broad outline of the argument to come:
So let’s begin. From the record of what the New Testament epistles do not say, we will look at a puzzle piece that may be called “The Missing Equation.”
Those 22 documents in the latter part of the New Testament contain almost 100,000 words. They are the product of about a dozen different writers . . . In them, one encounters over 500 references to the object of all these writers’ faith: “Jesus” or “Christ” of a combination of these names, or “the Son,” plus a few to “the Lord” meaning Christ.
Even if these writings are “occasional” — and some of them are more than that — is it feasible that in all this discussion and defense of the faith, nowhere would anyone, by choice, accident or necessity, happen to use words which would identify the divine Son and Christ they are all talking about with his recent incarnation: whether this be the man Jesus of Nazareth known to us from the Gospels, born of Mary and died under Pilate, or some other ‘genuine Jesus’ unearthed by modern critical scholarship? As astonishing as such a silence may seem, an equation such as “Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and Messiah” is missing from all the early Christian correspondence. The Jesus of the epistles is not spoken of as a man who had recently lived.
There are two passages in the epistles which present apparent exceptions to what has just been said, plus a third that could which could be claimed to fall into such a category [but this one is not a question of interpolation], and they will be addressed immediately so as not to compromise the argument.
One is 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. After a statement that the Thessalonian Christians have been mistreated by their fellow countrymen just as the Christians in Judea have been persecuted by their fellow Jews, we read this additional comment about those Jews:
. . . 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God’s will and enemies of their fellow-men, 16 hindering us from preaching to the gentiles to lead them to salvation. All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken them for good and all. [NEB]
That last sentence would seem to be an obvious allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened after Paul’s death and many years after 1 Thessalonians was written. The sentiments in those two verses are also very uncharacteristic of Paul, in both his language and feelings towards his fellow Jews as expressed elsewhere in his letters. For these reasons, many scholars have judged those verses to be an interpolation, something inserted into the text at a later date. This, by the way, is the only passage in the entire corpus of New Testament epistles which assigns to the Jews any responsibility in the death of the Christ. (See Appendix 1 [p. 657] for a full discussion of the question of authenticity of this passage.) (pp. 17-18)
The appendix is an approximately 1600-word essay on the scholarly arguments.
That 1600-word appendix begins:
Many scholars have dismissed [1 Thess. 2:15-16] as an interpolation by some later editor or copyist. They do so on two grounds.
One is the very apparent allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in verse 16, an event which happened several years after Paul’s death. . . .
. . . the language is “arguably un-Pauline.” It speaks venomously of the Jews . . . Paul nowhere else expresses such consignment to perdition about his fellow Jews, whom he expects will in the end be converted to Christ. Rather, this is characteristic of language of 2nd century Christianity. (pp. 657-58)
The appendix concludes with the names of “some of the scholars who regard the passage as an interpolation”:
- Birger A. Pearson: “I Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation,” Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971). 79-94.
- Burton Mack: Who Wrote the New Testament? p. 113
- Wayne Meeks: The First Urban Christians, p. 9, n.117
- Helmet Koester: Introduction to the New Testament, vol. II, p. 113
- Pheme Perkins: Harper’s Bible Commentary, p. 1230, 1231-2
- S. G. F. Brandon: The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, p. 92-93
- Paula Fredriksen: From Jesus to Christ, p. 122
So Doherty lays it all out on the table from the opening pages of the opening chapter. If you believe in your heart of hearts that these verses, despite all of their anomalies within their larger Pauline context, are authentic to Paul, then before you waste your time reading what you know you will never accept, you can throw the book in the bin right now. Case closed. But if you are of a more “liberal” inclination and are prepared, at least for the sake of argument, to roll with a good number of highly prominent names in the field of biblical scholarship (Mack, Meeks, Koester, Fredriksen . . . ), then you are welcome to continue.
What’s especially to be noted is that Doherty summarizes the reasons a good number of academics judge these verses to be not Paul’s:
- the implied reference to the destruction of the Temple (70 c.e. — after Paul’s death)
- the grossly anti-semitic tone of the verses (e.g. they declare that Jews are enemies of all humankind)
- the sentiment that there is no hope but ultimate doom, death and hell, for the Jews (Paul anticipated their ultimate salvation)
And one more anomaly of these verses, but one that is unattributed:
- these are the only verses in the epistolary literature where the Jews alone are singled out for blame for the crucifixion of Jesus
So, the inauthentic status of these verses has credible scholarly warrant.
Given all of the above, it is mischievous at best to suggest that Doherty’s argument hangs upon his own idiosyncratic drive “for convenience” or that he “simply claims” that “inconvenient” verses are interpolations.
But it gets worse. For Ehrman to sustain his accusation that mythicists such as Doherty and Wells are “driven by convenience” and “simply claim” these verses to be un-Pauline, he must hide from his readership what his own scholarly peers do in fact say about the authenticity of these same verses. He will therefore inform the readers only of his own idiosyncratic (I would be surprised if his argument as presented in Did Jesus Exist? has ever passed peer-review) reasons for believing the passages to be authentic.
This will be the topic of my next post, part 2.