Monthly Archives: January 2013

That chart of mythical and historical persons — with explanations

I have added to my table some quick off-the-top-of-my-head references to the sources I was thinking of when I constructed my original table (see previous post). Some people on Jim McGrath’s site have chosen not to register any problems with my chart here, but have opted for a giggle-and-poke session on Jimmy’s blog and Doctor James McGrath even said my entries on the chart I myself devised were “arbitrary”. But I think everyone who knows the history of this Explodingourcakemix scholar knows he knows nothing outside a few set texts in theology classes, some Mandean texts that need translating, and all the Dr Who scripts. Here in this post I add to my original chart some quick references to the sources that were on my mind at the time I designed it.

Some people have even challenged me for my entries and asked what I would assign for this or that other historical person. In doing so they have missed the point entirely. Who cares what I enter into the table? If I made some mistakes, then fine, tell me and I’ll change my choices. What matters is what most people who know anything about the historical sources for any supposed historical person choose to enter. It’s not a subjective exercise. Choices of Yes or No etc are open to discussion and correction.

Gosh, some people seem to think that “mythicists” are just like “historicists” — that they have some ideological or professional interest to defend and are prepared to construct bogus charts with “arbitrary” entries somehow thinking that everyone will be fooled. 🙁

Here is the chart again, along with my introductory explanation, and some names added to indicate the sources that guided my initial decisions.

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The Historical Jesus and the Demise of History, 2: The Overlooked Reasons We Know Certain Ancient Persons Existed

In the previous post in this series I concluded by pointing out the fundamental difference between the sources used by historians concerning nonbiblical historical figures such as Napoleon, Alexander or even Socrates, and those used by New Testament scholars for Jesus. In the former, the sources leave no doubt at all that certain individuals lived and certain events really happened — that is, that there are certain facts that historians can work with. Not even the most extreme postmodernists deny that Governor Philip established a settlement in Australia in 1788. However much they may be subject to interpretation, historical sources confirm as fact that certain people did certain things in the past.

This is not the case with the sources we have for Jesus. The sources we have for Jesus provide not a single datum of which it can be said, “This is a universally recognized, bedrock, indisputable fact about Jesus.” (See the box at the end of this post for comments on even the death of Jesus in this context.)

Now I am not saying that this situation forces anyone to conclude that there was no historical Jesus. Of course not. But it is a situation that should be recognized, understood and explained.

How do we know anyone existed?

I am sure that no historian undertaking a study of ancient Rome seriously pauses to ask, “How do I know if Julius Caesar really did exist?” The sources have been studied, analysed and dissected intensively for generations and certain information from them has long been taken for granted.

But because history is filled with such “facts” (such as that Julius Caesar conquered and was assassinated in the BCE era) that are part of our cultural heritage, it is worth taking time out to think through exactly how we can know that something really happened or that a particular person really did exist in ancient times.

You’d think that a scholar writing about the past could tell you how we know famous ancient persons existed without even having to think about it. Bizarrely, however, we find New Testament scholars really struggling when attempting to grapple with the question of how we know anyone in any period of history ever existed. It’s clear some have never before thought about it until challenged by mythicism.

Look, for example, at Bart Erhman’s unfortunate confusion in Did Jesus Exist? when he begins by saying photographs are evidence for the historical existence of Abraham Lincoln. That’s nonsense. All photographs can do is identify someone whom we already know exists or existed. Someone has to put a name to a photograph and someone has to link that name with an identity known from other testimony or experience.

Historians can appeal to many different kinds of evidence to establish the past existence of a person. First, there is a real preference for hard, physical evidence, for example, photographs. It is rather hard to deny that Abraham Lincoln lived since we have all seen photos. . . . [F]or most of us, a stack of good photographs from different sources will usually be convincing enough. (pp. 39-40)

I submit that a photograph of Abraham Lincoln would be meaningless unless we already knew who Lincoln was, that is, that he existed and what he did. (The ancient counterparts of photographs would be portraits and statues.)

Ehrman’s final point is just as confused: read more »

Gospels as Parables ABOUT Jesus, part 4 of 4 (John Dominic Crossan)

powerparableLet’s conclude this series on John Dominic Crossan’s new book, The Power of Parable. Last time we looked at the Gospels of Matthew and Mark; this time Luke-Acts and John.

Crossan argues that the Gospels are not histories or biographies of Jesus but are fictional parables and Jesus is their central character. Now Crossan does not doubt that there was a real, historical Jesus. But you won’t find him in the Gospels, he says, at least not on a face-value reading of them. To see Crossan’s arguments that Jesus was indeed historical (even though the most important evidence about him is fictional) see the first post in this series: Crossan’s Proofs That Jesus Did Exist. (Did you “find it persuasive”? Nor did I.)

(For the uninitiated, “Find it persuasive” is a stock phrase used by biblical scholars to apply in the positive or negative to arguments they do or do not like. It replaces the tedious need to find an evidence-based and logically valid argument to address a view that supports or contradicts one’s personal beliefs and tastes.)

Question:

If the authors of the Gospels wrote fiction about Jesus, is it necessary to postulate an historical Jesus to explain the Gospels?

Now this question is more than just a “mythicist” question. Of course it has implications for the question of whether or not there ever was an historical Jesus. But can’t we ask that same question without any of the mythicist-historicist invective we have come to expect of it? Forget the mythical-historical Jesus debate. Let’s address the evidence, the Gospels, without fear or favour. First things first.

So let’s start with Crossan’s discussion of Luke-Acts.

In what sense is Luke-Acts a parable about Jesus and not a biography or history of Jesus? read more »

What They Are Saying About The Brodie Affair

Another Irish newspaper, Irish Central, says it has attempted to contact Thomas Brodie since the Irish Sun article on Brodie’s removal from teaching positions but without success.

Father Levi, introduces himself as a priest of the Church of Ireland on his blog, The Way Out There. Father Levi writes

The truly odd part of this story, for me, is that apparently Fr Brodie has held these views since the ’70s but has only now chosen to make those views public.

and from there raises a number of issues. He concludes:

Those who already do not love the Church will decry any action taken against him as bullying, suppressing scholarship, denying him his right to speak freely, etc.

However, it will send message to the world that un-orthodox views are not to be tolerated within the Church, which is surely a good thing. People are already confused enough about what the Church teaches without others muddying the waters with this kind of material.

Returning to the Irish Central, this is more interesting for the comments posted than the original article:

One “peadarm” writes:

This [that Jesus did not exist] shouldn’t be a remarkable proposition – as Brodie says, much of the words and deeds of the gospels are drawn from the OT. Often word for word from the Greek of the Septuagint. And from the earlier epistles of the NT. They’re very much literary rather than oral constructs. Nor should it be particularly controversial – though realistically Brodie was brave to ‘come out’, I understand that he continues to believe in a mystical Jesus as a manifestation of God, without any need for a literal historical person matching the description in the gospels.

Then there is angelqueen, a blog “for purity and tradition”: [This blog is no longer active — link has been removed: 3rd August 2015] read more »

Thomas L. Brodie: Two Core Problems with Historical Jesus Arguments

brodieBeyondNow seems an appropriate time to say something significant about Brodie’s arguments. I quote here sections from his now infamous book that The Irish Times reported as “caused quite a stir and some considerable upset”, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. (I don’t know. From what I hear from the likes of lots of mythicist critics, Brodie should have attempted to publish his views in a scholarly peer reviewed journal if he thought he could mount a serious argument. He would have been guaranteed a fair hearing then, wouldn’t he?)

I was expelled by my church for going public with critical questioning and giving others materials to help them do the same, so I think I understand a little of what Brodie is experiencing. It is a nice coincidence that we appear to have come to a conjunction of views on Gospel origins despite our divergent scholarly statuses.

In chapter 17 Brodie addresses the four volume work by another Catholic priest, John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew. I select here two core criticisms by Brodie that resonate with me because

  • (1) they address what is fundamentally wrong with most books on the historical Jesus;
  • and (2) they have also been basic to many of my own discussions of the Gospels as historical sources.

Brodie writes, beginning page 156 (my formatting and bolding):

Marginal Jew has two key problems. First, like many other studies, it uses an unreal compass — oral tradition.

By relying unduly on form critics . . . it assumes that the Gospels are something that they are not, namely, that they reflect oral traditions that go back to Jesus, back to about the year 30 C.E. (Marginal Jew, I. 41). read more »

The Inevitable Catches Up With Thomas L. Brodie

brodieBeyondI have posted a few times with reference to Dominican priest Thomas L. Brodie’s latest book, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, which is something of an intellectual biography of how he arrived at his conclusion that Jesus did not exist. These posts are archived here — scroll to the bottom of the page to see the first one addressing his book most generally.

Now The Irish Sun has published the fallout:

A TOP priest has been forced to quit a Bible-teaching job after writing a book claiming Jesus did not exist.

Fr Tom Brodie makes the claim in Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

The publication sparked fury in his order and he was removed from his post at the Dominican Biblical Institute in Limerick, which he helped set up.

According to documents seen by the Irish Sun, the veteran scholar was also banned from any lecturing, teaching or writing while a probe is under way.

It is understood Fr Brodie has questioned the existence of Jesus since the Seventies but had until now been unable to make his views public.

For the full article go to http://www.thesun.ie/irishsol/homepage/news/4754775/Pulpit-Fiction.html

read more »

So some Jews did expect a suffering Messiah?

English: "A symbol that Messianic Jews be...

“A symbol that Messianic Jews believe was used to identify the first Messianic congregation, led by Yeshua (Jesus)’s brother Jacob in Jerusalem” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before continuing with the second part of my previous post I’ll post here something unexpected that I read last night. Daniel Boyarin is Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California whose views on Christian origins are not unanimously welcomed by Christian theologians. I don’t know at this stage what to make of his ideas since I haven’t read them closely enough yet. (I’ve only read criticisms of them so far.) But I quote here a section from his book The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, because it is surely interesting that a Jewish scholar should arrive at such a view:

Boyarin sums up the conventional view of how a crucified Jesus came to be thought of as the Messiah by his followers, and how it was that eventually Isaiah 53’s declaration of the Suffering Servant came to be viewed as a prophecy of the sufferings of Jesus:

To sum up this generally held view: The theology of the suffering of the Messiah was an after-the-fact apologetic response to explain the suffering and ignominy Jesus suffered, since he was deemed by “Christians” to be the Messiah. Christianity, on this view, was initiated by the fact of the crucifixion, which is seen as setting into motion the new religion. Moreover, many who hold this view hold also that Isaiah 53 was distorted by the Christians from its allegedly original meaning, in which it referred to the sufferings of the People of Israel, to explain and account for the shocking fact that the Messiah had been crucified. (p. 132)

The professor pulls no punches in telling readers what he thinks of all this.

This commonplace view has to be rejected completely. The notion of the humiliated and suffering Messiah was not at all alien within Judaism before Jesus’ advent, and it remained current among Jews well into the future following that — indeed, well into the early modern period.

At this point he refers readers to an endnote: read more »

The Historical Jesus and the Demise of History, 1: What Has History To Do With The Facts?

RottenDenmarkThere is something rotten in the state of historical Jesus studies. Ideology has long trumped inconvenient questioning. Postmodernist flim-flam has recently trumped any hope of sound methodology. Some on that side of New Testament studies have curiously accused me of being “a fact fundamentalist” or an antiquated positivist or one who has unrealistic demands for certainty. So before I justify my claim that HJ studies have fallen hostage to ideology and methodological nonsense, let me lay all my cards out on the table and tell you what history means to me.

History for me has never been “about facts and dates”. It has never been “one darned thing after another.” That’s a chronicle or an archival record. Not history. In hindsight I have come to appreciate so much my senior high school years as a history student when I was taught by two pioneers in the way history was to be taught throughout Australian secondary schools, J.H. Allsopp and H.R. Cowie.

challengeThe first thing we were taught was that history was an enquiry. It was a debate. It was all about exploring questions. We began our studies with the French Revolution and we were confronted with questions: Why did it happen in France? Why then? And instead of being given answers we were given competing explanations. We were forced to study up on the facts in order to try to answer these questions. Inevitably we soon discovered that the importance of certain facts varied according to the different points of view of the authors. One of the questions we were asked to test at our senior high school level of competence was historian Toynbee’s thesis that all history followed a pattern of “challenge and response”.

pirenneThen I took up history at university. We had been well prepared. First topic, the rise of feudalism. First book to read: The Pirenne thesis; analysis, criticism, and revision. We weren’t “taught” what led to the rise of feudalism in Europe. We were challenged and guided to explore the possible reasons, the competing explanations, and to show competence in the way we pursued historical questions.

What is history? What is an historical fact?

It was in the 1960s and we were required to engage with E.H. Carr’s radically challenging book on the nature of history, What Is History? His thesis — that history is essentially whatever the historian makes of it — was the hot debate of the day. One of his most famously quoted passages is found on the Wikipedia page and I copy it here: read more »

Pharisees and Judaism, Popular (Gospel) Caricatures versus Modern Scholarly Views

Updated 18th January, 2013. 8:40 pm.

I recently confessed that I have too often written with the assumption that my points are surely so well-known that there is no need to explain them. This post attempts to make amends for one such recent gaffe. I explain why I claimed Hoffmann is out of touch with most scholarship with his views of the Judaism of Jesus’ and Paul’s day.

In my latest post addressing Hoffmann’s argument for an historical Jesus, I dismissed his claim that Paul came from a tradition that knew only a vengeful God incapable of forgiveness. I assumed most readers would know that such a view of the Judaism of the early and mid first century is widely understood to be a misinformed caricature of reality. One commenter pulled me up on that point.

So here I quote views of scholars on the nature of Judaism, and the Pharisees in particular, in the time of Jesus and Paul. First, here are Hoffmann’s words:

[Paul] finessed his disagreements into a cult that turned the vindictive God of his own tradition into a being capable of forgiveness.

I brushed this aside with the following comment:

I am astonished that Hoffmann would write such an unsupportable caricature as if it were fact. His view is surely out of touch with most scholarship that has addressed this question.

So I pulled out books from my shelves that I could quickly identify as having something to say about this question. I avoided any titles that might be associated with scholars of mythicist leanings or left-right-out-radicals, however. I tried to stick to well-known or highly respected names in the field and especially to include relative “conservatives” in the mix.

So here are the sorts of things I have been reading over the years and that have led me to conclude that certainly a good number of scholars no longer accept Hoffmann’s characterization of Judaism or Pharisaism today. Note the number of times they denounce as a modern myth any notion that God was harsh or that Jews did not know divine forgiveness.

maccobyHyam Maccoby: The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (1986)

In recent years, many Christian scholars have come to realize that this Gospel picture of the Pharisees [i.e. severely and cruelly legalistic, hypocritical and self-righteous] is propaganda, not fact. Our main source of authentic information about the Pharisees is their own voluminous literature, including prayers, hymns, books of wisdom, law books, sermons, commentaries on the Bible, mystical treatises, books of history and many other genres. Far from being arid ritualists, they were one of the most creative groups in history.

Moreover, the Pharisees, far from being rigid and inflexible in applying religious laws, were noted (as the first-century historian Josephus points out, and as is amply confirmed in the Pharisee law books) for the lenience of their legal rulings, and for the humanity and flexibility with which they sought to adapt the law of the Bible to changing conditions and improved moral conceptions. . . . (p. 19) read more »

Vridar Blog 2012

WordPress have collated and forwarded me these stats for the past year:

450,000 views in 2012. This was up from 280,000 in 2011. The shift began with posts on Paul-Louis Couchoud and responses to James McGrath’s vacuous efforts to “review” Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, but a new plateau was established with posts on various responses to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?, in particular Earl Doherty’s chapter by chapter reviews. These have been collated and edited into a new ebook.

Most popular posts:

The busiest day last year was April 27th when I posted Carrier versus Ehrman: Reflections — 2,618 views on that day.

Thanks everyone for commenting or just quietly lurking. Glad to be able to write posts others find of interest.

vridarmap

 

Paul and “The Ektroma” (Revisited)

Inquisition condemned (Francisco de Goya).

Person hiding face and showing posture of shame (while wearing a Sanbenito and coroza hat) in Goya’s sketch “For being born somewhere else”.  (Francisco de Goya). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was Paul ashamed of his “claim to knowledge by revelation”?

Ed Jones recently sent me an email in which he once again repeats his view that the text of the Sermon on the Mount we find preserved in Matthew is authentic Jesus-movement tradition, while on the other hand Paul’s letters represent a “Great Mistake.” He writes:

Paul had one abiding problem – as he acknowledged “I was born out of time”; he never met the HJ [Historical Jesus], and thus denied the one indisputable basis for authority, apostolic witness. The best Paul could do was to claim knowledge by revelation. To make sense of this point one needs the get the history straight. Christian Origins and Jewish Christianity are serious misleading misnomers. [The term] “Christian” was first used of Barnabas and Paul’s mission in Antioch [Acts 11:26]; it was never used of the Jesus movement. (Ed Jones)

I have to disagree with at least two of Ed’s assertions. First, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the Acts of the Apostles when it comes to biographical information about Paul. In fact, anyone who argues that the Judean and Galilean followers (i.e., the “disciples”) have a claim on authenticity while Paul was a charlatan should certainly hold the Acts at arm’s length. For here we have an apologetic, late (second-century CE) work that desperately tries to gloss over Peter’s and Paul’s differences while practically erasing James altogether. Moreover, we have no evidence that Paul himself ever used the term “Christian” or for that matter would have even recognized the term. The only other NT book that uses Christian is the first epistle of Peter, also a very late work.

There’s that word again

Second, Paul never said he was “born out of time.” I fear we will never be rid of this awful translation. In 1 Cor. 15:8 Paul said, rather, that he was the ektroma. As I wrote earlier:

This translation masks an unusual word – ἐκτρώματι/ektromati — which refers to a miscarried fetus (ektroma). The untimeliness of the birth does not refer to lateness, but to being born too soon, and presumably means that Paul was calling himself some sort of monster. However, his meaning is far from clear and has long been the subject of debate. (Me)

Lately I’ve been researching the terms “born out of due time” and “ektroma,” and I’m now leaning toward Robert M. Price’s conclusion. But first some thoughts on terminology.

read more »

Ouch! It’s True!

While catching up with other blogs I came across this comment in a post by Ian at Irreducable Complexity that jolted me. It was written by Sabio Lantz who has sometimes left a comment here:

He wrote here:

I actually enjoy Neil Godfrey’s writings sometimes — but it is usually beyond my pay grade – as is Ian’s stuff when he is not kind! :-) But usually Ian is very kind and keeps stuff simple for us lay folks.

Ouch. That smarts a little because it’s true. When I started this blog I was always sure to keep my posts clear. I kept foremost in mind how I had to struggle when first reading esoteric terms like “Q” and “redaction criticism” and “oral tradition” and “intertextuality” and “Messianic Secret” etcetera etcetra to get my head around what the writers were talking about. read more »

Gospels as Parables ABOUT Jesus: Crossan, part 3 of 4

powerparableThis post was to conclude my series on Crossan’s new book, The Power of Parable, but since it is taking longer to complete than I anticipated I’ll post here only on Crossan’s treatment of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke-Acts and John can wait.

The Parable Gospel According to Mark

According to Crossan the author of this Gospel was not writing a history or biography of Jesus but a parable about church leadership and the meaning of true Christianity.

The author, says, was probably writing in Caesarea Philippi to refugees from the recent war against Rome. These people, Crossan says, “had lost everything — their lands and possessions, their homes and their loves, their hope and maybe even their faith.” (p. 173) (I shake my head a little every time I hear a theologian or any believer write about loss of faith as if it were something worse than losing loved ones and homes.)

So what was Mark’s parabolic message to these people?

In his gospel, Mark claims that false prophecy led Jerusalem’s Christian Jews astray by promising them that the (second) coming of the Messiah would save them from . . . Roman destruction. And, says Mark — with parabolic hindsight and fictional creativity — Jesus had warned against that very delusion . . . .

Furthermore, Mark lays full responsibility for that mistaken conflation of the coming of Christ with the coming of Rome on the shoulders of the Twelve, that is, on their misunderstanding of Jesus . . . . (p. 171)

Mark is writing a story to castigate the Twelve for getting Jesus wrong in every way.

He criticizes the Twelve

  • for failing to follow the mode and style of (servant) leadership of Jesus;
  • for failing to lead a united Jewish and Gentile Christian community instead of an exclusively Jewish one from Jerusalem;
  • for failing to understand that performed miracles for both the Jews on the western side of the lake and the gentiles on the eastern side.

Mark is taking what he sees as the sins of the Twelve throughout the forty years after Jesus (from the late 30s to the early 70s) and re-writing them so they appear in a story setting of their time with Jesus.

But there’s a problem. Crossan also knows that almost all of those Twelve were dead by the time Mark was writing. He intimates that Mark is writing a parable about problems in his own day and that have relevance for all Christians since. read more »

Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz dies

This is terribly sad. Aaron’s work has been central to what my own job is all about and what even this blog is in some ways about.

aaronSwartz

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