2013-03-16

Who’s the scholarly scoundrel? Scholars of Christian origins bound by bias, immured in myth.

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by Neil Godfrey

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I disengaged from the question that was being asked, falling on the last resort of the scholarly scoundrel: “I’m just trying to figure out what really happened! (Daniel Boyarin)

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Most of us [biblical scholars] are just trying to follow the evidence. (Larry Hurtado)

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just-the-factsForget mythicism or the Christ myth debate. That’s irrelevant. Or should be. What matters is the evidence we have, understanding it and explaining it. The evidence we have from the early days of Christianity is a literary and a theological Jesus. No-one I know of in my circle gloats or thinks they are scoring points over whether they can prove or disprove the existence of the historical Jesus. What interests them is understanding the best way to explain both the nature of early Christianity and Christianity’s origins. What matters is making the best sense of the data available. But first we need to have a clear and valid understanding of what constitutes the data to be explained.

In my previous post I noted what should be a simple truism: scholars of Christian origins generally are doing little more than paraphrasing (in scholarly language and with their own qualifying preferences) the Christian myth we have inherited from the Bible.

I have no doubt the bulk of them are very sincere and would sincerely censure me for suggesting that their scholarly pursuits are trapped in the myth itself. This blog has frequently posted observations of the ineptitude of some biblical scholars who seem to fall very short with respect to rigour and understanding of questions of historical methods, awareness of what their peers and foundational predecessors have written, and even the very nature of scholarly bias and the meaning of evidence.

The second of the quotes above struck me at first as a caricature. Surely a professor would know something about the nature of bias in any scholarly pursuit and especially in one as ideological as biblical studies.

Apparently not. I attempted to post a comment addressing the naivety of this view but my comment was rejected. The same professor even remarked that my suggestion of bias in the scholarly field amounted to charge of a “conspiratorial agenda”. Does a professor really believe that the alternative to freedom from bias is deliberate conspiracies? Or is this a defensive response against lay critics who can see the emperors are scantily clad?

So I post here the message that the professor did not appear to want others to read on his blog:

I do not believe biblical studies is unlike any other academic discipline and institution when it comes to questions of institutional (let alone personal) bias. Bias is a necessary part of the human condition and without it we cannot function. Surely everyone knows that the trick is to be aware of our biases and that that is not always a simple matter.

We don’t need to go beyond Albert Schweitzer’s observation that up till his own day scholars had produced an array of historical Jesus figures, each one in the image of his scholarly creator.

The latest historical Jesus figure I’ve encountered was only a few months ago and he, too, is very much the spitting image of his maker, Rabbi Joseph Hoffmann (i.e., all his scholarly peers are failures, only he can rescue them, but they don’t listen to him, he is without a place, and he sure as blazes doesn’t love everybody). I think we can conclude little has changed since Schweitzer’s day in this respect.

No one “simply follows the evidence”

No one “simply follows the evidence” without some form of bias to guide them. We must first ask questions, and the questions we ask will be an indication of the values or interests we have. Some biases are healthy and socially rewarded, such as a predilection to want to find evidence to convict a troublemaker or vindicate an innocent.

If we study an historical topic it is because we have some interest in doing so, whether that is to pass an exam or to learn more about a question, event or person that has special meaning to us. We must necessarily have some personal interest in a particular outcome of our study. So someone studying Christian origins may do so

  • to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of what they can learn happened that led to the Christian faith they hold; or
  • to gain a wider awareness of what happened that led to the faith that they themselves do not hold but that is significant for its wider role in their culture.

Those who have the former interest will naturally be biased to study questions that fall within certain parameters of their faith.

Those who pursue the latter interest will necessarily have other personal interests influencing the approach they take, just as anyone interpreting current affairs will interpret what they hear or read through their political and cultural biases.

One obvious interest that will necessarily impinge on anyone making a career of their interest in an academic institution will be to earn the respect (not the same thing as agreement) of their peers. It may not matter that they dress in nothing but a tie, underpants and rubber boots, and argue against everyone else in their faculty, but it will matter if they utter a view that is universally condemned (e.g. a medieval scientist disagreeing with Aristotle, a Soviet scholar disagreeing with Marx, an American scholar in the 1970s arguing that archaeology undermined the historicity of the biblical patriarchs and kingdom of Israel).

Framing questions, choosing the data, deciding relevance

It is easy to seduce ourselves into believing that we are being quite objective when we lay out data before us and say, See, all I am doing is following this evidence. Historians, any researcher, must first select from a mass of data what they consider relevant to their question. That means they must make value judgments and that means their biases get involved. (Even the question they choose to ask is a reflection of their interest, or their biases.) Not all scholars appear to be able to recognize this inevitable fact:

As a method, he claims to be interested in the “practices” or “religious experience” of the earliest Christians. Since he wants to recover the earliest possible Christian practices, he looks almost exclusively at Jewish, not gentile, practices as his data. (Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World, p. 21, reviewing Larry Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ.)

We see here Peppard’s observation that a scholar’s interest and choice of question is inevitably, by nature, a reflection of bias. Another scholar, such as Peppard, who approaches the data with a different interest (bias) can produce a different answer to a particular question. (Peppard will find logical inconsistencies in what Hurtado defines as “religious practices” — another indication of how bias affects our definitions and view of the data — and argue that evidence from the non-Jewish data is at least equally relevant.) That’s because a different interest is likely to attribute different significance or relevance to the same data, and make different selections of what is relevant data because of that interest (bias).

Peppard’s explains why he believes his and Hurtado’s views of what is relevant data (or evidence) are so different:

Hurtado’s work is, if not apologetics, unapologetically Christian, with an emphasis on orthodox Christology. (p. 21)

So one sees here how it is possible for even the question itself (the origin of a certain assumed Christology) to be a product of bias.

Confusion about the nature of the data to be explained

Scholarly bias can even condition a scholar into being completely misled about the very nature of the data upon which he or she would be expected to build a hypothesis.

Data is the raw material with which a researcher works. Data needs to be interpreted to become information. Interpretations are always guided by our values, our conditioning, our biases. But the data itself is the absolutely rock bottom raw material at the scholar’s disposal. Data has to be explained so we can make sense of it and know how to use it in the construction of theories to explain why it exists as it does.

Scholars who believe that they are doing nothing more than trying to follow the evidence (implying that bias does not impact on what evidence they choose to select or how they interpret the evidence or use it to answer certain questions) are in some cases even confused about the very nature of what constitutes data for early Christianity.

One professor has set out what he believes is “the data” that anyone studying Christian origins needs to be able to explain. The context was a discussion of the Christ myth theory, so he selected what he said was “data” that required explanation. As I said at the outset, let the Christ myth question be laid to rest. At least lay it aside in the context of the larger question of understanding Christian origins where the evidence to be explained consists of a literary and theological Jesus.

the data . . .

 

  1. the eruption of a Jesus-movement about 30 CE, in which the figure of Jesus was central, and among devout Jews of Roman Palestine;
  2. Saul of Tarsus’ indignation and sense of obligation to destroy this movement;
  3. Saul’s focus on Jesus’ crucifixion;
  4. the body of Jesus-tradition in the Synoptics all seems to have a Palestinian flavor, includes such remarkable stories as some of the parables, etc;
  5. in the numerous indications of opposition to the early Jesus-movement there is no claim that the figure of Jesus never existed (surely it would have occurred to someone to make the charge if there were any doubt);
  6. Paul would have been concerned to interview Kephas and learn from him if he were simply operating on the basis of his own revelations and had no interest in any tradition about Jesus;
  7. Paul seems so convinced that there was such a figure, born a Jew (Gal 4:4) and who operated among the Jewish people (Rom 15:8), and left teachings (e.g., 1 Cor 7:10-11), and was raised from death by God (e.g., Rom 4:24-25, and many others);
  8. early Christians referred to Jesus’ crucifixion (when everything was against them doing so), [The] crucifixion of a recent contemporary (which is what they claimed) would [never] have flown if everyone knew otherwise.

Most of the above points are not data, yet from my reading and exchanges I suspect a good many, probably most, New Testament scholars would agree that all of the above points are indisputable raw facts that demand explanation. Yet most of the above points are interpretations of data, explanatory models designed to answer certain questions, or even just plain old tradition.

Look at the the real data behind the above and see how bias has determined what scholars believe is the “data” (perhaps even “facts” or “evidence”) that they claim to be following “without bias”:

  1. There is no data to say that a Jesus movement suddenly erupted (some documentary evidence to suggest what came to be known as “Christianity” gradually evolved) about 30 CE. We do have theological narratives that are set at that time and among Jews in Roman Palestine. That is the data. The theological narratives. It is those theological narratives and their settings that require explanation. Literary studies as well as studies of the wider theological context have, according to some scholars, opened up alternative interpretations of the data.
  2. The so-called data that Saul was zealous to destroy the movement owes much to another Hellenistic narrative, the Book of Acts. There is also a passage in one of the letters attributed to Paul that we know was not universally accepted among the Christianities of the early second century. (The data that we have — not the speculations set in the conventional wisdoms — also indicates Acts was written in the second century.)
    • Again, the data we have are literary accounts — not the realities outside the texts — and it is that literary data that needs explanation. That does not mean that the narratives do not point to external realities. Not at all. But that is a question that needs to be decided upon careful analysis of the data itself.
  3. Yes, the letters attributed to Paul did focus on Jesus’ crucifixion. That (not “Saul focused on the crucifixion”) is data.
  4. Yes, the Gospels do contain much that appears to be of a Palestinian flavour, and that is also data. They also contain much that is, more broadly, Hellenistic, even Roman.
  5. This point is saying that there is no data for the claim Jesus never existed. I think here terminology is sometimes carelessly used (assumptions/bias lead us to take certain concepts for granted).
    • Obviously there was a concept of the figure of Jesus. Some denied he came in the flesh, and some data is interpreted as indicating that that was a very early claim. How should that data about the belief in a non-human Jesus be interpreted? Paul’s Jesus was also a spirit, wisdom, a power. Again, this is data to be interpreted and explained.
  6. To say that Paul “would” have had a certain interest is certainly not “data”. That is speculation. Naturally it is quite reasonable explanation given all the assumptions of the conventional model of Christian origins in which it is couched, and for this reason seems so obvious, so real, “actual data”, to many. But it is not data.
  7. Yes, it is certainly data that Paul was convinced there was a figure of Jesus. But what that figure was is a matter of interpretation.
    • It is not “data” that he was “born a Jew”. That is a translation of Galatians 4:4 that is itself a matter of interpretation. (We have posted recently on Bart Ehrman’s and Joseph Hoffmann’s arguments against the text originally saying Jesus was born a Jew, so this underscores the interpretative nature of this claim.)
    • Romans 15:8 is data for Paul’s claim that Jesus Christ “has become a minister to the circumcision”. Anything more than that is interpretation, and as should be clear by now, interpretations may seem like obvious facts themselves given familiarity with a model of Christian origins that has never been questioned before.
    • 1 Corinthians 7:10 is data that Paul taught the Lord was giving him or had given him teachings, but it is interpretation guided by a certain model of Christian origins to claim that “Jesus left teachings” is data to be explained. Yes, there is much data testifying that Paul believed Jesus was raised from death.
  8. That early Christians spoke of the crucifixion of Jesus “when everything was against them doing so”. That again is speculation, and poor speculation at that. It is also ideologically driven speculation: it is a rationalization of the Christian myth itself.
    • That early Christians spoke of the crucifixion suggests they thought it was in their interests to do so. If so, the problem facing us is to understand their interests. Again, all this probably sounds like nonsense to one who has never thought outside the orthodox model of Christian origins. But that only points to how hard it is to see where our biases dictate not only our interpretations of data, but even what we believe is data in the first place.
    • Finally, the idea that a “crucifixion-centred religion” would never have gained a following if everyone knew it was not historical is simply poor logic and quite misinformed. Carrier and others have amply demonstrated the fallacy of this claim. Besides, it is just a belief, not data.

What hope is there for studies of Christian origins when even professors cannot recognize their biases, biases that are so ingrained that they cannot even discern the difference between data, interpretations and speculations?

(I don’t really think either of the scholars I quoted at the beginning are literal scoundrels. Or maybe just a little — a case of kidding on the square? At least I am sure they are well meaning. I have more faith in the one who can recognize the joke, however.)

aadifficultsubjects

P.S.

The question that rightly emerges from this post is the question of my own bias. Conservative scholars who adhere to the orthodox model of Christian origins tend to assume that one such as myself must be biased against that model for invalid prejudicial reasons. That I hear such an accusation probably actually confirms that the accuser is himself defending a model prejudicially and for invalid reasons. Projection, etc.

My own life experiences have certainly put me in a position where I do not feel committed to the conventional model (basically the story or paraphrase of the Gospels, Acts and Eusebius). But those same experiences have also given me a sympathy and respect for others who remain committed to my old beliefs. I have not the slightest interest in scoring points against the beliefs of my friends or undermining the faith of my mother. It really is possible to have interests that are quite unrelated either to opposing or to explaining the conventional model. It is a shame that quite a few scholars seem unable to accept that thought.

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20 Comments

  • 2013-03-16 13:15:49 UTC - 13:15 | Permalink

    When I first heard that some people doubted the physical existence of Jesus I was astonished. I read some books on the subject, fully expecting to find they were full of nonsense, and against all my expectations I was convinced that it’s highly unlikely that Jesus ever lived. I was not and never have been a believer, so I had no vested interest in either outcome, but I still had preconceptions that needed to be disposed of. As it happens, the mythical Christ theory is so much better at explaining Christian history that I found it far more satisfying than my previous woolly ideas of a Jewish carpenter, who was transformed into the creator of the universe within years of his death.

  • Blood
    2013-03-16 13:20:33 UTC - 13:20 | Permalink

    “We don’t need to go beyond Albert Schweitzer’s observation that up till his own day scholars had produced an array of historical Jesus figures, each one in the image of his scholarly creator.”

    I may have this wrong, but I believe that famous observation was first made by the Jesuit renegade, George Tyrell, commenting on Adolf Harnack:

    “The Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness, is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.” (Tyrell, Christianity at the Crossroads, 1913)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Tyrrell

    • 2013-03-16 15:30:41 UTC - 15:30 | Permalink

      The Tyrell quote is correct.

      Schweitzer wrote:

      The historical investigation of the life of Jesus did not take its rise from a purely historical interest; it turned to the Jesus of history as an ally in the struggle against the tyranny of dogma. Afterwards, when it was freed from this pathos, it sought to present the historical Jesus in a form intelligible to its own time. For Bahrdt and Venturini he was the tool of a secret order. They wrote under the impact of the immense influence exercised by the Enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century. For Reinhard, Hess, Paulus, and the rest of the rationalistic writers he is the wondrous revealer of true virtue, which corresponds with right reason. Thus each successive epoch of theology found its own thoughts in Jesus; that was, indeed, the only way in which it could make him live. But it was not only each epoch that found its reflection in Jesus; each individual created Jesus in accordance with his own character.

      There is no historical task which so reveals a man’s true self as the writing of a Life of Jesus.

      The Quest of the Historical Jesus, p. 6

  • Blood
    2013-03-16 14:06:45 UTC - 14:06 | Permalink

    The most astonishing thing to me is that these wise old professors cannot distinguish history from pseudo-history; and when they do, think that the proper course of explanation is to seek out rationalizations for why pseudo-history is just as good as history.

    What reason do we have to believe anything written by ancient evangelists again? The people who freely invented books like the Gospel of John, the letters of Peter, all of the apocryphal Acts, Gospels, Apocalypses, and so forth? Exactly why should we believe these same people were not indulging in the same theological pseudo-history in the rest of the New Testament? Particularly when we can point out verse after verse after verse copied directly from the Septuagint?

    College is where most people begin to grow up and think like adults. They realize that the safe little world that their parents had inoculated them in was a cocoon designed to shield them from the harsh realities. For most, this is at first a shock, but they realize that it’s better to try to understand the world as it really is than to continue to live in a state of artificially suspended youth.

    Bible students rarely reach this second-level emotional state. Forced at seminary to abandon their naive teenage Sunday-school level understandings of Christianity, a potential crisis of faith is instead re-routed into “reasonable” faith that focuses on the supposed historical milieu of Jesus and the early Christians. So you don’t have to abandon your faith after all! You just have to develop a rational-sounding basis for it. This is accomplished by fencing off Christianity from something called “paganism” (which is only taught to show how wrong it was, and how insignificant compared to the glory of the Universal faith), and making sure students understand the supposedly vast differences between ancient religious myths and the serious, sober, historical reporting found in the New Testament. The latter lesson is so strongly impressed on the Bible student’s brain that the poor guy or girl will never, ever be able to write the word “myth” when discussing early Christian writing or belief. Legends, exaggerations, tradition, “stories,” yes — but never myth. That simply is not a thinkable thought.

    It’s a delusion, the biggest, most powerful delusion of all time. That’s not just a testament to the power of the myth, but the tremendous ego of the human race. We simply cannot allow ourselves to believe that we have been so terribly, incredibly wrong for two thousand years. Too much is riding on the historical Jesus. We cannot allow ourselves to accept that we have simply been duped by some anonymous monks’ “cleverly-devised fables,” as 2 Peter (not written by Peter) put it. No, there *has* to be something at the bottom of it all. There must be. We cannot live with ourselves otherwise.

    • Solstice
      2013-03-16 23:50:28 UTC - 23:50 | Permalink

      Excellent points, and especially about “Too much is riding on the historical Jesus”. Has anyone been watching any of the Papal proceedings being televised out of Rome? It’s a reminder of just how HUGE the organization is. But think about how it derives it’s authority:

      God the Father –> begats Jesus the Son —> commissions Peter the Apostle —> Popes —> Cardinals, Bishops, etc.

      Take away Jesus,and it’s a big problem.

      (and the Jewish & Muslim faiths aren’t too far off because they depend upon Moses/Mohammed receiving instructions directly from God which create the books which the whole religions depend upon)

      “We simply cannot allow ourselves to believe that we have been so terribly, incredibly wrong for two thousand years”

      Indeed.

    • muuh-gnu
      2013-03-17 21:56:20 UTC - 21:56 | Permalink

      > The most astonishing thing to me is that these wise old professors cannot distinguish history from pseudo-history

      Why is this so astonishing for you? There are also countless old, intelligent professors not only conflating history with pseudo-history, but history with outright fiction. Prof. Ratzinger wrote a whole book about why Jesus, who of course existed, was a _god_. Why should only those conflating history with pseudo-history be astonishing?

      Also, I am not so sure that they really _can’t_ distinguish them. My guess would be that they voluntarily do not want to, for various reasons, I’d guess most likely money and power.

      For me, this was most obvious with Bart Ehrman. A very sharp, intelligent guy, wrote great, sharp, entertaining, insightful books, and then suddenly BAM! he starts being insecure, defensive, aggressive, starts calling people names, twisting words, lawyering around, and starts commiting every single logical fallacy under the sun.

      For my, this was a clear recognizable point from which he stopped doing scholarship, concentrating information, generating insights, and started outright lying to “protect Jesus”. I do not why this happened, I guess it is to protect his job, but this sudden and unexpected switch from face to heel was very visible. For no single second I believed anything he wrote in DJE?, as if he suddenly completely lost his ability to bring across his point. I personally do not think that he lost any scholarly ability, he just was never very good at outright in-your-face lying, but for some unexplainable reason, he chose to do it anyway.

      And exactly this reason, why a scholar of his reputation chose to start publicly lying to defend an indefensible position would be most interesting to find out.

      • Solstice
        2013-03-18 04:41:01 UTC - 04:41 | Permalink

        “A Catholic could not write such a dissertation, and you will not be recieving your PhD from Tübingen” (paraphrasing)

        …sayeth Ratzinger unto Thompson.

  • 2013-03-16 17:09:23 UTC - 17:09 | Permalink

    Professor Hurtado is a world expert on dating manuscripts of the New Testament and working out which New Testament manuscripts are copies of which other New Testament manuscripts and which New Testament manuscripts had which copying errors in them.

    I’m sure his colleagues would be amazed at the suggestion that his work in this field is biased in any way. I’ve always found Professor Hurtado to be meticulously accurate at knowing which New Testament manuscript contains which portions of which books.

  • 2013-03-17 02:53:16 UTC - 02:53 | Permalink

    Hey Neil, I like what you’re doing here. Consider investigating the origins of these institutions and I think you’ll see that the prejudice was ingrained from the start. I’ve done a quick cursory check in my thread linked below that could be better organized but, I hope you find it useful. Here are just a few quotes:

    “For the greater part of the 19th century, most institutions of higher learning were small and church affiliated and provided a classical education in the liberal arts, producing ministers and other professionals.”

    “Prior to the nineteenth century, professional doctoral degrees could only be awarded in theology, law, or medicine.”

    So, in the past you basically couldn’t get a PhD without also studying religion. As far as New Testament scholars go today, they are so focused on the NT that they don’t seem to spend much time in comparative religion to investigate parallels to other pre-Christian religion. It is not any sort of a requirement for a New Testament scholars or students to examine the case for mythicism or the Mythicist Position in order to receive a PhD. Most colleges and universities began as some sort of religious institution or organization.

    It is imperative to keep in mind that there are no mythicists with Ph.D’s because there are no courses teaching it and there’s not any type of “Department of Astrotheological and Mythological Studies” for them to teach in or receive a Ph.D. and scholars know this fact. So, this argument couldn’t be any more fallacious! This quote from Dr. Bart Ehrman is a prime example:

    “… there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world.”

    – Bart D. Ehrman

    Ehrman raises a straw man here because he knows there is no such course teaching the case for mythicism and mythicists are not typically going to be hired, in fact, if anybody comes out of the mythicist closet they’re more likely to be fired …”

    “As for this tiresome business about there being “no scholar” or “no serious scholar” who advocates the Christ Myth theory: Isn’t it obvious that scholarly communities are defined by certain axioms in which grad students are trained, and that they will lose standing in those communities if they depart from those axioms? The existence of an historical Jesus is currently one of those. That should surprise no one, especially with the rightward lurch of the Society for Biblical Literature in recent years. It simply does not matter how many scholars hold a certain opinion…. ”

    – Dr. Robert Price

    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3110

    • 2013-03-17 08:54:44 UTC - 08:54 | Permalink

      I am sure there are many scholars involved in studies of comparative religion. My interest, however, is mostly in the studies that focus on the Bible. After J.Z. Smith in particular many scholars have resisted the possibility of a major relevance of non-Jewish religions influencing the bible. (Reviewing Smith’s books is still something I’d love to do on this blog.) But as an outsider who only sees a few facets of the whole kaboozle, it does seem to me that in recent years there is a resurgence of interest in non-Jewish influences on the New Testament writings.

      But as for astrotheology, I am currently reading Dupuis’ pioneering work, and I think those who do subscribe to that view would do well to read it too, and to note, in particular, the wider intellectual and philosophical context in which it was written, and notice the audience for whom it was written and learn to ask for evidence of claims, and then to learn how to study that evidence. Not least, to also learn how to notice logical flaws in argument, even in as reputable a gentleman as Dupuis (or Isaac Newton, for that matter, with his own religious expositions.) Once the whole picture is understood, I think one sees it is quite adequate to classify “astrotheology” as just another mythical study. The study of Christian origins is quite a different study, and involves quite different tools, from what is presented as “astrotheology”.

  • vinnyjh57
    2013-03-17 08:11:11 UTC - 08:11 | Permalink

    It is almost painful to contemplate Hurtado’s understanding of the word “data.” He is not asking “How do you explain this evidence?” Rather, he is asking “How do you explain the explanations of this evidence that we’ve always accepted?”

    • 2013-03-17 08:27:48 UTC - 08:27 | Permalink

      I don’t know, but perhaps he took my failure to answer his request that I “explain the data” as an indication that I was powerless before “the facts”.

      I can understand the bumbling McGrath presenting that list as “data” — maybe it’s my Anglo-Australian bias against religious American professors of religion — but I was taken aback to find it coming from an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh. (To think last year I was even seriously taking an opportunity to visit Edinburgh, and was thinking it would also be an opportunity to shake hands and introduce myself to Hurtado and one or two others there. But after recent exchanges with Hurtado, both on and off line, I don’t think he would welcome me at all now. He does appear to be very prickly in the face of any suggestion of the possibility his faith is the bottom line of much of his scholarly work. In his eyes, anyone who asks truly radical questions is the equivalent of a flat-earther or conspiracy theorist.)

    • 2013-03-19 10:09:58 UTC - 10:09 | Permalink

      Analogously, it’s like if an evolutionist tried to debate a creationists by saying “how do creationists explain evolution?”. This rightly sounds odd because no biologist has done this ever, especially in creation/evolution debates. No, a biologist would ask a creationist something like “how do you explain endogenous retroviruses?”. The theory of evolution is the hypothesis, endogenous retroviruses are the data.

      I routinely come across laymen who confuse the data for the hypothesis, but it’s kind of embarrassing to see a scholar do so.

      • 2013-03-19 12:18:06 UTC - 12:18 | Permalink

        To add to the embarrassment, I would direct your attention to Hurtado’s accusation that Neil had misleadingly characterized his “studied analysis” as question begging. He then asks Neil to provide “a superior explanation of the data,” which include the eight points listed above in the post.

        One of these data points was: “(5) Explain why Paul would have been concerned to interview Kephas and learn from him if he were simply operating on the basis of his own revelations and had no interest in any tradition about Jesus.”

        The actual data point is that a person claiming to be Paul wrote in Galatians 1:18 —

        Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. (ESV)

        Hurtado has in effect asked Neil to explain his analysis of the data. He is reading a great deal into the verb that means “to get acquainted with” and expects us all to go along for the ride.

        To assume that the verse in Galatians means Paul wanted to “interview” Peter because he was keen on learning about the Jesus tradition is to assert a proposition without proof when proof is required. I’m pretty sure that’s a fallacy. Any guesses as to which one?

        • vinnyjh57
          2013-03-19 13:02:18 UTC - 13:02 | Permalink

          Even if Paul only thought that Peter had encountered the risen Christ through revelation and appearances, Paul would still have good reason to want to know whether Peter’s revelation matched his own in order to determine whether Peter was teaching the true gospel or a false gospel. Even if we grant Hurtado’s interpretation of historesai, that doesn’t tell us what information Paul was gathering. That seems like a pretty obvious point to me, but Hurtado didn’t seem to get it.

          • 2013-03-19 15:06:53 UTC - 15:06 | Permalink

            I’m sorry; the answer I was looking for was “begging the question,” but I’ll give you partial credit.

            Just kidding.

            I think the point is that on the surface of the text, we have Paul arguing strongly that he did not receive his gospel from any human source. He writes:

            But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. (NASB, Gal. 1:15-17)

            If anyone wants to argue that ἱστορῆσαι (historēsai) in v. 18 means more than “get acquainted” with Peter (Cephas) then I think he’s swimming against the current. I’ve read more than one apologist/scholar who says, in effect, “Paul must have been interested in Jesus when he was walking in Palestine in the flesh.” Since they put themselves in Paul’s sandals, they can’t imagine anyone not asking Peter for all intimate details of Jesus’ life. In those 15 days, he “must have” asked for details about Jesus teaching while on Earth.

            But that is not what Paul says. We can’t replace what the author actually says with our own thoughts and desires, at least not without some countervailing evidence. And just “wanting it to be true” is not countervailing evidence.

          • 2013-03-19 15:57:26 UTC - 15:57 | Permalink

            Wow. I’ve just caught up with the comments over at Hurtado’s site. He really doesn’t get it, does he?

            Just to be clear, we will never edit any commenter’s comments, unless it’s to break up a wall-o’-text into paragraphs or to fix some really bad formatting or spelling errors that might make the commenter look bad. It’s true that if a comment is not relevant to the post or is abusive, we reserve the right to send it to /dev/null.

            We have a few “regulars” who can’t follow the rules and continually play the victim card. I agree with Neil that this is a role they were born to play, and so in a way we’re doing them a favor. “Help! I’m being repressed!”

            Surely I can’t be the only one who finds it really creepy when Hurtado edits comments. That’s why I never write anything over there.

            Oh, and BTW, we never close comments here on Vridar. I’m always amused when I see at the bottom of a really interesting string of comments:

            Comments are closed.

            You missed your chance. Hurtado has spoken.

  • Bob Moore
    2013-03-20 13:07:25 UTC - 13:07 | Permalink

    It’s a crude analogy but, people like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and now Bashar Assad, all need a way out that includes immunity from life threatening prosecution. That’s one reason they can’t surrender.

    Likewise a scholar who has walked so long and close to the merely-literary-theological-Jesus line (by accounting much of the early worship of Jesus to “revelatory religious experience”) also needs a similar way out. They can’t cross the line and surrender without “life threatening” results.

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