by Neil Godfrey
Updated — a new final two sentences were added 7th Feb. 6:30 pm Central Australian time.
If you happen to be a student, you can apply the same test to your teachers who claim that what they are teaching you rests upon incontrovertible scientific foundations [/historical methods]. See what they know about the natural sciences and mathematics [/historical methods] and their philosophical foundations. Naturally, you cannot expect them to have a specialist knowledge of these fields; but if they are completely ignorant of these things, do not take seriously grandiloquent claims of the ultra-scientific [/historical] character of their teachings.
Furthermore, do not be impressed unduly by titles or positions. Top universities can usually get the best people in the fields where there are firm criteria of achievement; but at the present stage of development of the social sciences [/biblical studies?] the process of selection resembles, as often as not, a singing competition before a deaf jury who can judge the competitors only by how wide they open their mouths. (Social Sciences as Sorcery, p. 86, my formatting)
This quotation reminds me of the times I have challenged New Testament scholars (in particular McGrath, but also a few others) on their knowledge of historical methods after they insist that historical Jesus scholars are doing history in the same way other historians work. Yet the McGraths have proven completely ignorant of the landmark names and key methodological and philosophical developments, even the fundamentals of document and source analysis, in the field of history, whether oral or written, as it is practiced outside biblical studies. Names like von Ranke, Carr, Elton, White, (even Hobsbawm!), leave them staring like the proverbial rabbits in the spotlight. Quote from any of the many standard works on how postgraduate history students need to analyse documents or oral reports and they can only turn to sarcasm and insult to defend themselves. In my next post on the historical Jesus and demise of history I will be exploring one case study that illustrates well the very real gulf between historical Jesus studies and what history really means for nonbiblical scholars.
There is another quote from a much older source in the same book that reminded me of some of Hoffmann‘s posts arguing for the historicity of Jesus — in particular his latest one (to which Tim’s post yesterday links, you know — the one where he points to Hoffmann’s source for his term ‘mythtic’) in which he (Hoffmann) waxes eloquently, lost in his own echo chamber, shouting his knowledge of naturalism in modern literature and the philosophical debates surrounding Hegel — all presumably intended to impress readers that here, surely, is the final word on the historicity of Jesus:
There are four chief obstacles to grasping truth, which hinder every man, however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to knowledge; namely,
- submission to faulty and unworthy authority,
- influence of custom,
- popular prejudice,
- and concealment of our own ignorance accompanied by the ostentatious display of knowledge.
– Roger Bacon (my formatting and bolding)
There are other gems in the same book. One of these is what we can learn about an author from whether or not they have a sense of humour. I have never seen this from Hoffmann, and as soon as one attempts to join the spirit of a laugh on McGrath’s site by bouncing a joke off him, his laughter is immediately lost and out come the knives. Hoffmann is less patient. He simply bans any comment he does not like and for which he has no quick sarcastic reply.