The Inevitable Catches Up With Thomas L. Brodie

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by Neil Godfrey

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

Is anyone surprised? But how many biblical scholars will be outraged over the ideological suppression of free critical inquiry? It is clearly Brodie’s conclusions that have upset people. I doubt there will be too much discussion of the details of his methods.


  • Jason Goertzen
    2013-01-23 09:30:32 UTC - 09:30 | Permalink

    At least this will allow Bart Ehrman to claim that nobody with a teaching position believes Jesus didn’t exist…

    Not surprising…but still sad.

    • 2013-01-25 12:39:02 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure there are others. Dr. Hector Avalos has said he is agnostic on the existence of Jesus, which is more-or-less the same as Robert Price’s position.

  • 2013-01-23 09:32:09 UTC - 09:32 | Permalink

    Thanks Neil. I hope this latest piece of church self-destruction boosts sales of Brodie’s book, which is available at http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Quest-Historical-Jesus-Discovery/dp/190753458X [Neil’s note — always check http://www.bookfinder.com — often you’ll find a copy cheaper than Amazon’s.]

    Tom Dykstra has published the following fine review at Amazon, showing how Brodie “blows Ehrman out of the water”.

    5.0 out of 5 stars A great counterpoint to Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist December 25, 2012

    The “discovery” in “Memoir of a Discovery” is Brodie’s realization that Jesus is a literary character and did not exist as a historical person at all. This is diametrically opposed to the thesis of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth which answers that question with an unqualified “yes.”

    Ehrman’s book repeats over and over again the assertion that no reputable New Testament scholars deny the historicity of Jesus, and Brodie’s book certainly blows that assertion out of the water. Brodie is an established biblical scholar who heads an institution devoted to biblical scholarship and has published widely on topics in New Testament studies.

    Ehrman’s key point is the existence of multiple independent witnesses to the historical Jesus. Brodie argues that none of these are genuinely independent witnesses. All of the New Testament sources are actually dependent on Old Testament texts and each other, and later sources are dependent on the New Testament. Ehrman cites Josephus as another independent witness, and Brodie discounts that independence also. He points out that a genuinely independent witness generally provides information we don’t find elsewhere, but Josephus doesn’t. Moreover, Josephus could have had access to the gospels, and Brodie cites evidence making that plausible.

    Ehrman makes much of his criteria for historicity, but he virtually ignores all of the scholarly work being done of late on criteria for literary dependence. As a result, the Ehrman book “cannot deal adequately with Price and Thompson, and shows little awareness that — whatever some of their opinions — their work has a place in a central new field of biblical research.” (229)

    A key problem with Ehrman’s approach, which Brodie corrects, is that Rule One in any valid list of criteria for historicity would be to determine the literary context of a source, and this is missing from Ehrman’s approach. As Brodie puts it, “If a newspaper announces cheap flights to Mars, it is important to note whether the advertisement occurs in the Travel Section or in the Cartoons-and-Jokes Page. Clarity on the literary factor is Rule One.” (122) The gospels can be seen as having been intentionally written to look like history though most of their stories come from rewriting Old Testament texts. Given that understanding, the simplest interpretation that explains the literary data is to see the gospels as portrayals of a literary character. “In essence: once the literary connection is seen, the historical explanation is unnecessary; it goes beyond what is needed to explain the data.” (159)

    Brodie also addresses Ehrman’s insistence on the reliability of oral tradition and his assertion that early Christians would not have invented a crucified messiah. Literary connections make oral tradition unnecessary, and “when there was a need to express the ancient contradiction or paradox between God-based hope and life’s inevitable sufferings it was appropriate to express those sufferings in a clear contemporary image — Roman crucifixion. It was doubly appropriate in the context of a rhetorical world that sought dramatic effect and energeia (graphic presentation) . . .” (230-1)

    I highly recommend reading Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus after reading Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist. You’ll read something that comes off as absolutely certain and then read a counterpoint that calls into question everything you were just starting to take for granted. Even if you don’t agree with everything Brodie says, you can’t help but recognize the reasonableness and validity of most of his arguments, yet according to Ehrman such arguments are unreasonable and invalid.

  • Will
    2013-01-23 11:15:44 UTC - 11:15 | Permalink

    this just pisses me off.. this is how honest and objective scholarship is rewarded??? by firing someone? This is shameful.

  • 2013-01-23 15:35:59 UTC - 15:35 | Permalink

    Paul Regnier will be pleased.

    Holocaust deniers are often sacked after their writings on Holocaust denial are published.

    That makes mythicism just like Holocaust denial! Ask Paul ( or Bart, for that matter….)

    • 2013-01-23 22:44:35 UTC - 22:44 | Permalink

      As a teacher myself I gain absolutely no pleasure in seeing someone else lose their teaching job.

      And yes holocaust deniers are liable to be fired, fined, or imprisoned for their views. A quick Google search should provide a few examples.

    • 2013-01-24 07:08:32 UTC - 07:08 | Permalink

      I do believe Paul and Bart and the rest will be equating this incident with the removal of a teacher from a science classroom for teaching creationism instead of evolution.

      • 2013-01-24 22:54:25 UTC - 22:54 | Permalink

        I suspect creationists jump on such cases in exactly the same way mythicists are jumping on the Brodie case…

        • 2013-01-24 23:58:12 UTC - 23:58 | Permalink

          So Steven is right then when he suggests that you would say this case really does prove that mythicists are like Creationists and Holocaust Deniers?

          • 2013-01-25 03:01:49 UTC - 03:01 | Permalink

            From the way he worded his point in a comment over on my blog it seemed that Steven was unaware that Holocaust Deniers were liable to end up in hot water for their views. That was what I was responding to.

            Does what happened to Brodie prove that mythers are like holocaust deniers? That’s not what I’m saying.

            My point is that you and Steven seem to think that what happened to Brodie shows the ideological suppression that goes on in Biblical Studies when people question the status quo. But the same (or worse) can happen to people who hold “beyond the pale” views in other fields too.

            Do you think that biologists or holocaust historians are also guilty of suppressing the opposition for ideological reasons? I doubt it.

            Do people who hold the fringe positions in these fields claim that ideological suppression is going on? Yes. They write conservapedia articles about it….


            • 2013-01-25 03:23:53 UTC - 03:23 | Permalink

              So your defence of the Church’s treatment of Brodie is that other institutions do the same? (It would also be helpful if you named those other types of institutions so we could get a more clear idea of the comparison you appear to find acceptable. Or are you referring only to Creationists and Biologists?)

              I have no problem with an employer insisting employees support the values of a corporate body that employs them, but in this case we are talking about education, presumably as a concept opposed to indoctrination. Here we observe the inevitable incompatibility of a religious institution and genuine education (as opposed to indoctrination).

              Your comparison with Creationists is invalid since Creationism is itself the religiously based view opposing critical inquiry. So if there is a valid or qualitatie comparison at all it is that of Creationists with the Church.

            • 2013-01-25 07:08:58 UTC - 07:08 | Permalink

              I think Paul’s point is not only that there are no mythicists in teaching positions, which is superb evidence that mythicism is false, but that if a mythicist is found in a teaching position, then it is only right to sack him, as mythicism is false.

              Meanwhile, Regnier also seems to think that Brodie’s points about so many stories about Jesus coming straight from stories about Elijah/Elisha should be suppressed, but obviously, not for ideological reasons. They should just be suppressed – period. Not refuted, just suppressed.

              • 2013-01-25 21:01:38 UTC - 21:01 | Permalink

                “if a mythicist is found in a teaching position, then it is only right to sack him, as mythicism is false.”

                When have I said any such thing? As it happens, I might have a teaching vacancy coming up in my (non-faith) school. For the record, any mythicists with the necessary teaching qualifications are more than welcome to apply!

              • 2013-01-25 22:24:03 UTC - 22:24 | Permalink

                How would you know if someone with the necessary teaching qualifications was or was not a mythicist?

              • 2013-01-25 23:20:02 UTC - 23:20 | Permalink

                Hairy palms. Eyes too close together. Howling at the moon. The usual symptoms.

                I’m joking of course. I wouldn’t know, unless it came up in conversation or I saw the name “Steven Carr” on an applicant’s CV. What’s your point?

  • 2013-01-23 15:37:15 UTC - 15:37 | Permalink

    ‘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.’

    Wow! What did he do to upset the Catholic church and get them to act so quickly? Molest a child or something?

    • 2013-01-23 20:43:25 UTC - 20:43 | Permalink

      In the 1980s, the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff was placed under a similar interdict by Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Inquisition) for his book Jesus Christ Liberator.

      This censorship of Boff by Ratzinger became a public scandal. Perhaps the media could comprehend a Marxist analysis of Jesus Christ in terms of class struggle with Jesus cast in the role of communist revolutionary.

      It seems Brodie’s mythicist interpretation of Jesus Christ as fiction is too incomprehensible for the general public, in view of the scale of psychological delusion it suggests in the invention of the Gospels. Given the widespread acceptance that the Jesus story is based on fact, denying Jesus challenges some big central assumptions and meets intense emotional resistance from believers. If the media and the public cannot cope with the mind-bending idea that Jesus was invented, the Brodie case will be ignored

    • Will
      2013-01-24 06:35:03 UTC - 06:35 | Permalink

      if he would have molested a kid the church wouldn’t have fired him.. they would have transfered him.

      • Ed-M
        2013-01-25 06:13:45 UTC - 06:13 | Permalink

        Or if he covered up for pedophile predator priests, promoted him to a cushy job… even the Office of the Pope!

  • 2013-01-23 18:51:02 UTC - 18:51 | Permalink

    Inevitable, of course! Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Ph. D., daughter of former German President Gustav Heinemann, in her young years living with the Bultmann family, in the 1950s co-student and even friend of a certain Ratzinger (now Benedict) at Munich University, lost the ‘venia legendi’ for interpreting the Virgin-Birth story of Jesus symbolically. What then in Catholic Inquisition (Dominicans!!) to do with deniers of any historicity at all ?!!
    Poor optimistic Edwin Johnson wrote more than a century ago:
    “Unfortunately, so long as the impatient popular mind insists on begging the questions of history in its own favour, so long will ecclesiastics of ability be found to respond to the demand, and the corruption of intelligence must go on. Happily, we approach, if we have not already arrived at, a time when at least the same degree of freedom and candour that obtains in societies of men of science and letters will be encouraged, under the like conditions, in ecclesiastical communities.”
    Edwin Johnson, Antiqua Mater: A Study of Christian Origins, 1887

  • 2013-01-23 18:52:57 UTC - 18:52 | Permalink

    One can appreciate in the light of this happening to Brodie why Brodie included in his book a plea to the faithful to accept that a nonhistorical Jesus need not mean the end of the Christian faith. See his case outlined at Mythicism and Positive Christianity. It is easy to be cynical and pour scorn on Brodie for such a stance (as Carrier has done). But we are talking about a man’s life history and turning point here. I don’t know if there is anything to be gained by impatient scorn when people’s lives and illusions face turmoil.

    • 2013-01-23 19:28:27 UTC - 19:28 | Permalink

      Mythicists may disagree among themselves on minor details of their methods and conclusions. But I’m sure everyone stands in support of Brodie’s efforts overall; and his right to say what he has said. Over and against the Church.

    • Ed-M
      2013-01-24 03:04:00 UTC - 03:04 | Permalink

      I mined this from the cited article:

      I am reminded of a story I have told several times already. I once asked a Jesus Seminar Anglican priest and scholar what he thought might be potential consequences for Christianity should we learn that Jesus was a mythical construct after all. After a moment’s thought he suggested that “If Judaism can survive without a literal Abraham . . . “

      Well Judaism doesn’t have an authority with an all-consuming need to uphold the historicity of a literary character in all that character’s alleged aspects, whether he was constructed around an actual person or not.

      And concerning mcduff’s comment below, what will it take to put an end to this HNTJ charade? World War III fought with all the nukes we have, and no Second Coming?????

  • mcduff
    2013-01-23 21:06:18 UTC - 21:06 | Permalink

    Just in case people haven’t seen this before.

    The censorship of T.L. Thompsom [c 1974]
    An extract:
    “As Hans Küng, with whom I had studied Systematic theology, was on leave for a research semester, I was assigned to take my examinations in dogmatic theology from the professor of systematic theology, Joseph Ratzinger. When I spoke with him concerning bibliography for the upcoming examination, he explained to me that a Catholic could not write such a dissertation as I had and that I would not be receiving my PhD from their faculty in Tübingen. I must point out that the shock with which I met this statement, at the time, caused me to fixate my thoughts on the first phrase: that a Catholic could not write it … but I had! … and what then was I, if not a Catholic? … and then: why couldn’t a Catholic write it? ”

    Deja vu – again.

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  • rick23
    2013-01-24 00:40:14 UTC - 00:40 | Permalink

    If you claim to teach as a Catholic theologian at an institution which claims to be Catholic, then you cannot complain if the Church authorities hold you to your commitment.

    • 2013-01-24 03:23:13 UTC - 03:23 | Permalink

      Indeed: Catholicism = NT literalism and to change that is quite another thing than e.g. to allow evolution theory. Many a Catholic scholar had the choice: remain a member of the Roman Catholic Church OR a scholar. I feel with Brodie but he surely must have known what was going to happen.

    • mcduff
      2013-01-24 03:23:47 UTC - 03:23 | Permalink

      Yes you can, complain I mean.
      The key is in the word that you use – “teach’.
      That explicitly presumes the seeking of ideas, knowledge and meaning for teacher and learner[s] .
      If such is to be only done within proscribed limits by censorship imposed by central authority as dictated by their political demands for indoctrination then the teacher is no longer teaching
      but merely engaging in robotic indoctrination and propaganda and the students are not learning but being brainwashed.
      This is not desirable and, incidentally, not what the church authorities will admit to bluntly.
      They, the authorities, have an obligation, as do all learning institutions, religious or otherwise, to seek truth [whatever that may be] rather than demand its limiting.
      Complaint in this instance, is vital.

      • 2013-01-24 07:06:30 UTC - 07:06 | Permalink

        Excellent point. It is the difference between education and indoctrination. This highlights the fact that what passes for religious education on the part of vested religious interests is generally little more than indoctrination. I imagine that most religion scholars won’t complain too loudly — as someone else has suggested in these comments — and that, too, will demonstrate that they, too, are in the business of upholding “correct thoughts”.

      • rick23
        2013-01-24 21:48:04 UTC - 21:48 | Permalink

        I would see a role for authority in establishing truths that are matters of revelation.

    • rick23
      2013-01-24 21:45:53 UTC - 21:45 | Permalink

      No, of course it doesn’t mean literalism.

  • Gabriel
    2013-01-24 06:36:06 UTC - 06:36 | Permalink

    Lets see if we get all these lovely christian scholars that usually jump in support of their peers when they get fired from an institution for their views. My guess is that won’t happen.

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    • 2013-01-27 11:06:39 UTC - 11:06 | Permalink

      Jimmy McGrath does not read the Doherty book he claims he is reviewing, he does not read the Wikipedia article he says all mythicists should read, he does not read the books on historical method or oral history that he quote-mines, he does not read my own mythicist arguments that he claims to debunk, he does not read the Irish Sun article about the Brodie removal from his teaching positions, and he does not read the headlines of my posts here that he faults. Which is all just as well or he would never be able to have nearly as much fun as he obviously is enjoying writing with reference to any of these.

      The headline of my post did not say Brodie was sacked, but I did go on to quote the lead paragraph of the Irish Sun article. If McGrath had ever bothered to read that article he would have himself seen there and then that Brodie resigned his Directorship post before publishing his book, but that he was nonetheless suspended from other teaching roles pending an outcome into an investigation of his book.

      And McGrath speaks of my “sensationalist headline” (“the inevitable catches up. . .”) — and McGrath is the one who recently posted a headline asserting I believed in “Divination” all on the strength of his own sexing up of the one word “divine” that I quoted from Prevenier and Howell on historical method — the primary meaning of this verb being “to infer” according to the Webster dictionary.

      Pots and kettles?

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  • Thomas Hennigan
    2016-02-11 07:48:25 UTC - 07:48 | Permalink

    If he doesn’t believe that Jesus existed, then what business has he in being a Catholic priest dedicated to Biblical Studies when appartently he believes this since the 1970s. With that he is opposed to everything held in the Christian Creed, all all the dogmas of the Church: Trinity, Incarnation, Redemptive death and resurreection, sacraments and a long etcetera. One wonders how someone who totally rejects the whole basis of Christianity could have remained at his post and not have been consequential with his beliefs and abandoned the Church decades ago.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-02-11 08:13:46 UTC - 08:13 | Permalink

      I have updated the archive link in the post so do please check Brodie’s own explanations of what Christianity means to him, and what he believes it could mean for the Church — http://vridar.org/2013/12/26/47632/ — See the last three of four posts there.

    • Bee
      2016-02-11 11:55:18 UTC - 11:55 | Permalink

      An interesting question. Though I suspect that quite a few bishops and up, don’t really believe themselves, what they encourage you to believe.

      Possibly, to give the devils their due, they believe that simple church services, are just an introduction or simplified version, of a more complex, higher theology.

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