2012-07-14

The crazy attacks on Vridar

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

Updated and slightly revised about 3 hours after original posting.

This is crazy. A couple of blokes, laymen, have a hobby. They love to engage with biblical scholarly literature and to learn and understand all they can about a book that is important to Western culture. They enjoy sharing what they read with others who have similar interests. I always understood scholars were too busy to be bothered with whatever lay people did with any of their ideas. Who cares what every Trish, Dot and Hanna think and say?

So why do a few scholars sometimes go out of their way to publicly attack this blog? Why the insults and even the curses wishing our children dead (which even their students learn to repeat*)?

Why should anyone care if we — or anyone else — think Jesus was probably not historical or if we say we can’t decide one way or the other on the question? How can we explain scholars resorting to insult because we are less certain and more questioning about some details?

I have said repeatedly that my interest is not in mythicism per se but in exploring Christian origins and understanding the nature and origins of the biblical literature. I cannot prove Jesus did not exist and have no interest in bothering to try.

I am as much, and no more, a mythicist as is Professor Thomas L. Thompson. Thompson does not argue for or against the historicity of Jesus but he does argue a case for understanding the biblical literature and the ideas within it in a certain way, and he does from time to time point to the potential implications this understanding has for the question of the historicity of Jesus.

My arguments about methodology are for most part an application of Thompson’s and other minimalist scholars logic to the New Testament.

Accordingly I have questioned the fundamental assumptions of NT scholarship that addresses the historical Jesus and Christian origins. I have also pointed out the logical fallacies riddling many of those scholarly studies.

But I have also shared much of what I have found most interesting in those learned works.

I — and even moreso Tim — have spent a good amount of time learning the fundamentals of the biblical languages, using the standard scholarly references, and attempting to keep up with current ideas as well as digging into those of the past. It’s a hobby. But we are serious about it and love to share what we learn or wonder about.


We stand outside the guild. We have not been trained in the “correct answers” and “the right questions” to ask or the “correct way” to frame the discussions.

One sometimes wonders if it’s because we have done a little homework and have a fair idea of what we are talking about when we apply critical analysis to certain modern scholarly ideas that some scholars find our views threatening. We stand outside the guild. We have not been trained in the “correct thoughts” and “the right questions to ask”. It has not escaped our notice the way some scholars seem incapable of breaking away from stock phrases and concepts in their arguments and appear to be most uncomfortable with criticisms that undermine those taken-for-granted ways of expressing the arguments and framing the debates.

Enter mythicism

If we question the foundational assumptions and standard “logic” of some NT scholarship, what is left? What would replace it? Maybe that is why some have chosen to label this blog “a mythicist hub”. (A poll I have had online for over a year now has consistently shown than most readers of this blog are actually either not mythicists or are undecided on the question.)

Yes, Earl Doherty has been very influential on my understanding of the New Testament letters and the wider matrix of ideas from which Christianity emerged and a fresh way of reading the NT epistles. He has also helped me be more conscious of the need to constantly examine the logic of my arguments and often inspired me to stick with the arguments in the face of provocation and personal abuse from some scholars. And I do believe there is a very good case for Jesus never having been an historical figure. (That’s not the same as saying I “believe” in the Christ Myth theory or that I am not open to being shown how wrong I am — see Myth #3 at 5 Myths about Ex-Fundies.) On the other hand, I have had negligible personal communications with certain minimalist scholars.

Yet when it comes to the ideas and arguments and methods I address on this blog I am generally following what I have learned from certain minimalists like Thompson. Doherty and I have some significant differences of views. We also have different personal goals. He has reinvigorated the mythicist hypothesis and raised awareness of it significantly as we all know. My interest is more broadly in the questions of the origins of the religions of the Bible.

If the evidence I explore and the methods and logic I deploy finally leave no room for any role for an historical Jesus, and even suggest that the Jesus of the literature and faith is a literary and mythical construct all the way down (not just on the surface), then so be it. If my reasoning is valid and the evidence sound then engage me with the arguments. But don’t pretend my arguments do not exist, or that they can be dismissed “as mythicist nonsense” and therefore have no need of rebuttal, or surface thoughts of wishing my children dead.

This is, after all, just a blog outlet for a hobby of a couple of laymen. We enjoy scholarly approaches to the issues. We have always been welcoming of anyone who shares a similar willingness to engage with the ideas and methods we believe to be valid.

.

Hoffmann originally added the curse to his comment above Steph’s and Steph repeated it expressing her view of its appropriateness in relation to “myth-ticks”, aka “disease-carrying mosquitoes”. Hoffmann has since removed it from that comment but resurfaced it in his new post maligning those he could not persuade (maligning the persons, not their arguments, of course, which he continues to assert do not exist.)

23 Comments

  • mcduff
    2012-07-14 07:48:28 UTC - 07:48 | Permalink

    “So why do a few scholars sometimes go out of their way to publicly attack this blog?”

    Fear.

  • 2012-07-14 08:28:49 UTC - 08:28 | Permalink

    Just to add a few random comments into the mix. I lost faith in God and left Fundamentalism when I was about 15 years old. I took my first university course in New Testament Studies three years later. It was in that class, which I enjoyed immensely (because I was still fascinated by the Bible and likely always will be), where I first learned about source criticism, form criticism, and the basic history of Christian theology.

    When the professor first went over the Two-Source Hypothesis, it was an exhilarating experience. Eureka! I drank it all in and loved every drop.

    From the age of 15 until my mid-40s, I accepted the “failed apocalyptic prophet” theory of the historical Jesus, and didn’t think very much about it. In fact, I didn’t know that mythicism was even an option until a few years ago. And I’m still not convinced by it.

    For me, it’s similar to Marxism. Marx’s critique of capitalism is devastating. But Marx’s replacement leaves me unconvinced. In the same way, Price’s, Doherty’s, and Carrier’s critique of historical Jesus scholarship has revealed the naked emperor. But I still can’t justify moving from my agnostic position.

    Hoffy muses: “I suppose it comes partly from having moved too quickly from loving Jesus in their fundamentalist infancy to feeling that religion had deceived them and then latching on to mythticism, too quickly, as a cure.”

    First of, all, can I just say that I think the way he puts an extra “T” in mythicism is just adorable?! But to his point, I guess 30 years after leaving my fundie roots is long enough to have latched on to mythicism. I mean three decades is not “too quickly” — except that I didn’t embrace mythicism. I can’t speak for anyone else who comments on Vridar, but here’s one guy who is neither mythicist nor mythticist.

    Finally, as Neil said, we’re just hobbyists here, but we take it seriously. I don’t have to worry about making friends or influencing people. I’m not jockeying for a better parking space in the faculty lot. I don’t worry about tenure. So I’m free to speak my mind. And you can damned well bet that I’ll continue to do so.

  • 2012-07-14 09:00:31 UTC - 09:00 | Permalink

    Yeah . . . ימח שמו

    I can’t recall ever getting so angry at a stranger on the Internet that I wished such a thing upon him.

  • Will A
    2012-07-14 09:36:06 UTC - 09:36 | Permalink

    Guys, do not feed the trolls! Your blog is a tremendous resource and you are doing a great job.

  • GakuseiDon
    2012-07-14 10:40:48 UTC - 10:40 | Permalink

    Guys, firstly: more power to you. I admire anyone who questions the status quo, which can only lead to stronger arguments on all sides. But the only thing I recommend is stopping the personal attacks, even if the other side does it. No-one has ever thought “That guy insulted me, my argument must be wrong.” Neil, your series a while ago on themes in the OT was excellent. IIRC there were no attacks on or by posters, just interesting points that you provided that made for a thought-provoking read. How about making a policy that personal attacks or digs (which you define in a blog post so people clearly understand what is meant) by anyone are banned or at least edited out on Vridar?

    Regardless of what happens on other blogs: what kind of reputation do you want Vridar to have?

  • GakuseiDon
    2012-07-14 10:52:09 UTC - 10:52 | Permalink

    Maybe we need a blogger’s Golden Rule: “Post unto others’ blogs as you would have them post unto yours”.

  • Blood
    2012-07-14 10:59:06 UTC - 10:59 | Permalink

    Paul says Jesus was born of a woman, so QED historicity of Jesus.

    Whew! So glad that’s settled.

  • 2012-07-14 13:55:11 UTC - 13:55 | Permalink

    Reading Dr Hoffmann’s amazing latest screed shows that the debate touches a raw nerve. If Jesus Christ was not a real person, the legitimacy and identity of Western Civilization are at stake. Or something like that.

    But really, core myths provide a sense of moral identity, meaning and purpose. When the truth of a paradigm is challenged its adherents feel a vertiginous loss of coherence and dignity. Their whole world is turned upside down, and they have to engage with people they despise and reject. Without a narrative of belief, the mandate of heaven is lost.

    The Historical Jesus is the remaining core of rational Christian faith, since God has been destroyed by science. Without Jesus, Christians see no hope of salvation. So this topic is more than a hobby, it engages with deeply political questions of cultural identity.

    As the Blessed Virgin Isis put it in the Magnificat in Luke 1 – he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.

    • Blood
      2012-07-14 23:03:23 UTC - 23:03 | Permalink

      “The Historical Jesus is the remaining core of rational Christian faith, since God has been destroyed by science.”

      Well stated. Reading Ehrman and Crossan’s (and now Hoffmann’s) works, it does seem that the “historical” Jesus is the new substitutionary atoning sacrifice for the miracle-working god Jesus. C.S. Lewis’s maxim that such a man would not have been a great teacher, but rather a dangerous lunatic, is of course never seriously considered in “pee reviewed journals.”

      • Blood
        2012-07-14 23:04:18 UTC - 23:04 | Permalink

        Sorry, “peer reviewed journals.” Freudian slip.

  • RoHa
    2012-07-14 14:51:07 UTC - 14:51 | Permalink

    You should feel flattered that you can get such a response from professionals.

    Clearly you are making a strong case.

  • 2012-07-14 19:23:04 UTC - 19:23 | Permalink

    Lest anyone may ever have suspected that Hoffmann and Stephanie may have had second thoughts and quietly removed their tasteless curse calling for the death of the children their opponents, they are now pointing to how I am the one who is being hyperbolic and responding in an unscholarly manner — as if I am the showman in a theatre. So Hoffmann considers it standard scholarly fair to conclude with Hebrew curses his diatribes against those he can’t persuade. How medieval are the thought processes of this “humanist”. What sorts of people are these? And what sorts of people would not be ashamed to be associated with them?

    • 2012-07-14 23:43:12 UTC - 23:43 | Permalink

      “May your name be erased forever,” said the (erstwhile?) head of the Goddard Program in Human Values.

      Humanism ain’t what it used to be.

    • 2012-07-15 00:43:14 UTC - 00:43 | Permalink

      Get a grip, Neil. Vridar has been nothing but aggressively disrespectful to any and all academics who present evidence for an historical Jesus. One of your fans (NateP) in the comments http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/reply-to-hoffmanns-on-not-explaining-born-of-a-woman/#comments went so far as to threaten physical harm against Hoffmann because Joe didn’t treat you all as academic equals. NateP’s threat didn’t as much as raise a single eyebrow on Vridar. Now you’re trying to claim higher ground because golly gosh you ARE laymen after all, merely innocently discussing Christian origins. ‘Gosh, why is this mean ole scholar going after widdle us.’ You can’t have it both ways there junior. Clean up your act and maybe you’ll start getting the respect you think you deserve.

      • 2012-07-15 01:03:35 UTC - 01:03 | Permalink

        Vridar has been nothing but aggressively disrespectful to any and all academics who present evidence for an historical Jesus.

        And your evidence for this is? But even if your accusation is true, I still don’t see why any of them would care or even notice what a couple of hobbyists are saying on their blog.

        NateP (a fan??? is anyone who does not comment with your hostility here a “fan”?) really did post such a sinister threat I am sure Hoffmann has alerted the police or his lawyer already, and taken extra security precautions around his own home as are result of this dastardly threat to do real physical harm:

        You need to stop with the smug tone of superiority, Mr. Hoffman…it’s making otherwise civil conversation partners want to track you down and break your nose.

        • 2012-07-15 02:30:22 UTC - 02:30 | Permalink

          Yes, and likewise I’m sure that you’ve taken steps to protect yourself and your progeny from the curse of Yahweh. Because when a 21st century atheist scholar refers to an ancient religious curse it couldn’t possibly be intentionally ironic, could it?

          • 2012-07-15 08:07:07 UTC - 08:07 | Permalink

            So you cannot offer evidence for your accusation that “Vridar has been nothing but aggressively disrespectful to any and all academics who present evidence for an historical Jesus.

            So you now switch to arguing the very opposite of your other original accusation about that I tolerated a threat of “real physical violence” here. Openly saying you wish to punch someone on the nose in an attempt to have them behave civilly is quite different from RJH storming off uttering genuine expressions of searing hatred of a sort that had been expressed before he made his appearance here (recall images of disease carrying mosquitoes that by inference need to be exterminated). I am quite sure Hoffmann did not literally want our children dead. But that is the translation of his remarks in a context of bitterness and spite. As such it is a most “unscholarly” and vicious thing to add to his hate-spewing projections and has absolutely no place beyond the medieval minds of a less enlightened era.

            And (as another pointed out to me recently) Steph’s toadying adoration of anything Hoffmann says is pretty much the equivalent, in this instance, of a malicious child spitefully giggling: “Tee hee, die in fire, tee hee.”

  • Reader
    2012-07-15 13:10:36 UTC - 13:10 | Permalink

    A scholar is one who seeks to understand and should be capable of expressing their ideas with clarity. They are of rare vintage that are in possession of erudition and lucidity of explanation.
    Issac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins[read the Greatest Show on Earth to experience a master teacher at work] – these are teachers that could explain the most recondite concepts to a child. I would recommend the writings of Dr Thomas Sowell[whether you agree with his politics or not]. He is able to say in three paragraphs what would take others 20 pages to muddle together. see: http://web.archive.org/web/20150726100433/http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/sowell1.asp

    In total opposition to the above named scholars, are those who have become literally obfuscatory and impenetrable in their writings. Imagine possessing all that supposed learning yet cannot express those ideas clearly. All their supposed learning has become a prison of their thoughts; with only screams, howls and vitriol spewing forth.

    In addressing any issue, what are fundamental are:

    1. evidence

    2. logic and reason

    3. arguments

    Simply address the arguments of your opponents. Do not resort to Ad hominem attacks and a torrent of other fallacies.
    When a so called scholar resorts to these then they cease to be reasonable. When a supposed scholar attempts to respond to his opponents but ever other sentence is invectives and bile then a simple “fuck off” will do, they have abdicated the province of reasoned debate and discussion. I think that is a ploy on their behalf, then they will say “ah” – “see how crude he is offering only profanity to our reasoned position”.

    They must have their “baby Jesus”. Their very livelihoods depend on it. Neil, Earl and Tim, I think you gentlemen have found the rotten tooth of what passes for scholarship in NT circles and has exposed the farce of its methodology[ies]. You guys are lucky! Look at the treatment that Thomas L. Thompson received at the hands of what are supposed to be institutions of higher learning: “On the Problem of Critical Scholarship: A Memoire” – http://bibleinterp.com/opeds/critscho358014.shtml
    Absolutely and diabolically distressing.

    Alvin Toffler would love to study these particular specimen of scholars who fear the onrushing future shock of scrutiny driven by the Internet. Their ivory towers are fast becoming dungeons.

    Here are some pertinent quotes from Gerald Massey, who is much maligned yet scarcely read.

    “In a confession found in theApostolic Creed, in the year 600, the convert has to say, ‘I believe in the resurrection of the flesh;’[142] and only the other day Canon Gregory declared in St. Paul’s Cathedral, that if you took away the physical resurrection of Jesus, the one foundation of their spiritual life was gone! If the Christ did not rise corporeally from his tomb, then that tomb would be the grave of Christianity.”

    Massey’s Lectures – Lecture 2 – page 37
    http://masseiana.org/ml2.htm

    “And here the worst foes of the truth have ever been, and still are, the rationalisers of the mythos[historicist could be inserted here], such as the Unitarians. They have assumed the human history as the starting point, and accepted the existence of a personal founder of Christianity as the one initial and fundamental fact. They have done their best to humanise the divinity of the mythos, by discharging the supernatural and miraculous element, in order that the narrative might be accepted as history. Thus they have lost the battle from the beginning, by fighting it on the wrong ground.”

    Massey’s Lectures – Lecture 1 – page 23
    http://masseiana.org/ml1.htm#1

    “I court honest criticism, and welcome genuine correction. I do not mind being misunderstood, but do resent misrepresentation. I am in search of realities myself, and have no tolerance for men or things in masks. I try to follow Truth, like the old Egyptians, my masters, with all the force of sincerity, all the fervour of faith. That is comparatively easy nowadays when bonfires are no longer made of man or book, and the penalties are so very slight. A loaf or two of bread the less; a greeting here or there with an offensive epithet, a rotten egg, or a dead cat, are things to be smiled at when we remember our forerunners that were her lovers from old, who beat out a pathway for us through all the long dark night of the past, and lit it with illimitable rows of their burning bodies, each turned into a flaming Torch for Truth.”

    Massey’s Lectures – Lecture 9 – page 259
    http://masseiana.org/ml9a.htm#249

    This Blog is an excellent resource! Keep up the great work.

  • Niels Peter Lemche
    2012-08-09 05:29:23 UTC - 05:29 | Permalink

    The often disgusting character of blog discussions (just past a couple on Bible and Interpretation) has to do with what Mark Elliott wrote me today, that this is the principal medium of the future. Books and articles will be substituted by blogs of various kinds. Ressources will be on the net.

    So what is going on: an imperium is under attack, the holy castle of so much traditional biblical scholarship. This has so far little with scholarship to do, it is about (religious) politics. As such the senseless attacks are counterproductive, as it will scare reasonable people away together with quite a few scholars, leaving the scene to the already saved.

    So who is to win this fight?

    NPLemche

  • Leave a Reply

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