Monthly Archives: July 2013

Aslan on his book about Jesus

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch ...

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until recently I had always understood Aslan was the lion from The Chronicles of Narnia series. (He was also a not overly subtle cypher for Jesus in C.S. Lewis’s novels.) But I don’t live in America so am a latecomer is learning that he is really a prominent Muslim scholar who is now in the spotlight for writing a book about Jesus. That there was any controversy about a Muslim writing a book about Jesus led me, in my naïvety, to assume that Americans were excited that a scholar from that “greatest of evils in the world today”, Islam, had somehow seen the glorious light of the true Saviour of that “greatest crusading nation against all evil and darkness in the world”, the United States of America. It’s always a propaganda coup to have any of the enemy come over to acknowledge a virtue in your cause.

American readers will know how wrong I apparently was.

I have since caught up with the world through Al Jazeera online where I read this:

OMG! A Muslim is obsessed with Jesus

The subheading is this:

Reza Aslan’s embarrassing Fox News interview speaks to the right wing’s desire to suppress progressive ideologies.

It is written by Mark Levine, a “professor of Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine, and distinguished visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden . . . ”

Mark Levine’s article is triggered by this recent Fox interview with Alsan:

Levine sees more than “mere” Islamophobia at the heart of this controversy: read more »

The Gospel of Mark As a Fulfilment of Isaiah’s New Exodus

new-exodusRikki Watts presents a very thorough argument in Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (1997) that the major themes, structure, and narrative details in the Gospel of Mark were drawn directly from the Book of Isaiah, and in particular from the last chapters of Isaiah that speak of a New Exodus for Israel from captivity to various nations and back to Jerusalem.

Watts would surely disapprove of my saying so, but I do believe his argument so cogently explains the life and teachings of Jesus in this gospel that one must surely question whether introducing hypothetical sources pointing to an historical Jesus would only create difficulties and add nothing to the gospel. But that is a secondary question. Let’s stick with the outline of Watt’s argument. (It is too detailed to consider anything other than a broad outline in a single post.)

Isaiah Part 2

The second half of Isaiah opens with “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” calling upon God’s people to prepare the way for their coming Lord, God himself. The coming of the Lord will be through a tearing apart of the heavens; he will come as an overpowering warrior to destroy the rulers and idols of the nation; and he will also come as a Shepherd who heals his people, cares for them, and leads them back to a land of rest and true worship. Within these chapters we also read of a mysterious “Suffering Servant” whose suffering is somehow related to the salvation of all Israel. Many Jews have interpreted this figure as an ideal Israel.

When God comes he overthrows the nations who held his people in captivity. This is the beginning of Israel’s second Exodus. He then leads his people — even though they are blind — into the place where he will rule them from Jerusalem. read more »

Jan Vansina and the Criterion of Embarrassment

Jan Vansina

Jan Vansina

Insults and a failure to comprehend

Awhile back our favorite historicist doctor posted a comment on his own blog:

One can see a similar mythicist combination of insult and failure to comprehend those with whom they disagree at the blog Vridar. Seriously, it is as though I had never written anything about [Jan] Vansina and oral tradition here on this blog, never mind in scholarly publications! (Dr. James F. McGrath, 16 June 2013)

He links his “insult and failure to comprehend” remark to Neil’s post, “Rabbi Jesus and the Phantom Oral Tradition.” Where’s the insult? Probably this:

[I]t quickly became evident that [Dr. McGrath] had not read or understood Vansina’s works, but had himself appeared to quote-mine a single passage, out of context, to lend “support” to a point he was making in one of his articles. My own reading of Vansina and my attempts to point out to the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair what he had failed to notice in Vansina’s work were disdainfully and peremptorily dismissed. The Doctor continues to play the part of the Emperor with no clothes by foolishly and ignorantly asserting that Vansina’s works support the a model of oral transmission that they in fact contradict. (Neil Godfrey, 16 June 2013)

Islands in the stream?

McGrath’s comment from the 16th ends with a reference to his essay in a scholarly work, “Written Islands in the Oral Stream: Gospel and Oral Traditions.” Indeed, we should note that McGrath’s essay is the first piece in the book (see the link McGrath kindly provided).

In the interest of completeness and fair play, here’s exactly what McGrath wrote in a scholarly publication concerning Vansina:

Particularly important in conjunction with this topic is Vansina’s observation that official traditions tend to be preserved much more precisely over longer periods of time with a higher degree of accuracy than stories preserved by private individuals. [Vansina, Oral Traditions, pp. 85-86] On the other hand, official traditions are also far more likely to have been fabricated or at least falsified to reflect an official viewpoint. For this reason, the fact that a tradition can be demonstrated to have been passed on faithfully for several decades does not immediately indicate the historical reliability of the information. Indeed, it may in at least some instances suggest the opposite. (p. 9)

That’s absolutely correct. What we must stress here is that public, official oral tradition reflects the functions for which it is remembered and transmitted. Oral societies will often transmit such traditions faithfully over many years, but the actual story they tell may not be authentic. Where McGrath goes wrong is in the attempted specific application of Vansina’s work to NT studies.

Those studying oral traditions in contemporary oral cultures have likewise found principles well-known in historical criticism of the Bible to be readily applicable to their work. Vansina notes that it is sometimes possible to demonstrate the unlikelihood that a tradition has been falsified, for example ‘where a tradition contains features which are not in accord with the purpose for which it is used.’ [Vansina, p. 83] Vansina then defines a principle that is essentially the same as the criterion of embarrassment used by historians investigating the historical Jesus. The converse principle is also affirmed, namely that ‘facts which do not help to maintain the institution which transmits the tradition are often omitted or falsified.’ [Vansina, p. 84] (p. 8, bold emphasis mine)

Readily applicable?

McGrath has correctly quoted Vansina, but he cannot have fully understood the broad implications of Vansina’s work, or else he would not have used the phrase “readily applicable to their work.” It is not. He also asserts that the criterion of embarrassment in NT studies is “essentially the same” as what Vansina had described. It is not.

[Note: Neil wrote an enlightening piece on this very subject about a year and a half ago. If you haven’t read it (like McGrath), you should: “Oral History does NOT support ‘criterion of embarrassment’“]

First, let’s state the obvious difference between the study of oral tradition and the study of the New Testament. Vansina talked to real people who were transmitting real oral history to him. That is, he met face to face with the people who were still telling stories. McGrath and his fellow scholars are reading written works whose authors may or may not have transcribed from oral sources. Does this matter? Of course it does.

Vansina writes (Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology) :

read more »

Blood and Water: What Is the Function of John 19:34?

c. 1400

Crucifixion with a Dominican friar c. 1400 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 A shock to the system

33  But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

John 19:33-34, NRSV

Today in this short post I return to a recurring theme here on Vridar. The anxiety of historicity (or authenticity) has played such a dominant role in both mainstream and apologetic Jesus studies (if it’s possible to separate them), that we often lose sight of original intent. In other words, scholars and clergymen over the past two centuries have spilled gallons of ink explaining how certain events are plausible, while giving short shrift to the questions concerning the evangelist’s purpose for a story or how that story functioned in the setting of the early church.

The events surrounding the crucifixion are no exception. In fact, a curious blend of wannabe medical experts and earnest confessional scholars have contributed to a vast library of works “explaining” the plausibility of every last detail of the Passion narrative. In the case of the spear piercing Jesus’ side, for example, these experts — who seem to have more interest in forensic science and human anatomy than in the religious meaning of the text — have dominated the conversation.

Above all else, they must impress upon us that “this really did happen,” not in some mythological story, but in the real, material world. Consider the following paragraph:

Prior to death, the sustained rapid heartbeat caused by hypovolemic shock also causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs. This gathering of fluid in the membrane around the heart is called pericardial effusion, and the fluid gathering around the lungs is called pleural effusion. This explains why, after Jesus died and a Roman soldier thrust a spear through Jesus’ side (probably His right side, piercing both the lungs and the heart), blood and water came from His side just as John recorded in his Gospel (John 19:34).

(Note: I was going to credit a certain apologetic web site (gotquestions.org) with the above paragraph, but I’ve found that if you Google the first sentence, you’ll get so many copypasta hits that it’s difficult to tell exactly where the hell it originated.)

Sciencey, ergo plausible, ergo true

Naturally, I don’t expect apologists really understand hypovolemic shock any more than they do the Second Law of Thermodynamics. And that, of course, is why they copy the text word for word. But the point is it sounds sciencey and very sophisticated. It sounds true.

I can remember listening to visiting lecturers in the church I grew up in who would explain “what Jesus actually endured” during the scourging and the crucifixion. I would suppose that Mel Gibson’s Texas Chainsaw Jesus movie spawned even more such discussions. Suffice it to say that at the time, in my early teens, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of why blood and water flowed from Jesus’ wound.

Recently, however, while reading David Friedrich Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, I was struck by his unusual perspective. Why did John tell the story of the spear and the flowing blood and water?

This event is ordinarily regarded as the chief voucher for the reality of the death of Jesus, and in relation to it the proof to be drawn from the synoptists is held inadequate. (p. 697)

read more »

Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 1 (Too Strange!)

Continuing Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

Part III

The Third Revolution: Literary Art, Including Form/Genre

Becoming aware of how biblical writers redesigned their materials into a new work of art

Chapter 8

.

Dramatic happenings in the next room

Old Testament studies were much more action-packed in the 1970s than those of the New Testament.

With these two publications there was little ground left for taking anything or anyone in Genesis as being historical.

With this work everything from Genesis to Joshua was rendered suspect. Even Joshua was thus more validly classified with the “former Prophets” than with “history”. But the Book of Judges was said to be historical to the extent that its “jumbled-looking sequence and style” appeared to indicate that it was a collation of oral traditions.

3books

What are we going to do with St John?

Meanwhile, back in St Louis, Missouri, Thomas Brodie was not getting very far in his search for the Gospel of John’s sources. Recall in our previous post that Brodie was struggling with this question since 1982, particularly through the window John 9 (the healing of the man born blind) and its apparent view out to Mark’s accounts of healings of the blind (Mark 8.11-9.8). Brodie was becoming increasingly aware that discerning John’s sources was a question that was inseparable from John’s meaning, and the the meaning of John 9 could not be separated from the rest of the Gospel. The meaning of the Gospel of John was also bound up in the narrative spanning Jesus’ ministry out over three years (as opposed to Matthew, Mark and Luke’s one year ministry). The explanations to all of these questions could not be summed up in a single article.

Then one day I woke up and realized I was being drawn into writing a commentary! (Beyond, p. 80)

culpepperBrodie did not clearly recognize it at the time, but what at this point he was entering a new, the third, revolution of his understanding. Others were also beginning to develop these new ideas to some extent. One landmark example was Alan Culpepper’s Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (1983). Effectively for the first time the Gospel was being studied for its qualities as a finished literary product. This departed from earlier studies that sought to discern its various parts that had presumably been stitched together over time and to understand their respective histories.

If I were to deal responsibly with John’s Gospel, I would have to take account of both aspects — the sources that underlie it, insofar as they can be identified, and also the completed body, all the features of ancient rhetorical art, especially its basic form (is it . . . history or story?). (Beyond, p. 81)

To step outside Beyond the Quest for a moment, I might point out that later when Brodie finally published The Quest for the Origins of John’s Gospel in 1993 he devoted a chapter to comparing John 9 with the Markan section on healings of blind, pointing out that as the centre episode in John’s gospel it was indeed the window into the meaning of the entire Gospel

A new tool is discovered

read more »

Real Historians Do Bayes!

How do historians, comparative linguists, biblical and textual critics, and evolutionary biologists establish beliefs about the past? How do they know the past?

dr_tucker

Aviezer Tucker

That’s the subject of Aviezer Tucker‘s Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (2004). Tucker’s interest is the relationship between the writing of history (historiography) and evidence (p. 8). It is written for audiences interested in philosophy, history, biblical criticism, the classics, comparative linguistics and evolutionary biology (p. 22).

When I began to review Richard Carrier’s book, Proving History, I pointed out that far from substituting crude mathematics for historical inquiry, the application of Bayes’ Theorem merely expresses in symbolic terms the way historians evaluate the nature of evidence and test hypotheses to explain evidence for certain events and artefacts. Some fearful critics have objected to the application of Bayes because they have never understood this fact.

All Bayes’ theorem does is help us clarify our thinking. Bayes theorem is simply a symbolic way of expressing how we do our best thinking when seeking explanations for evidence or evaluating hypotheses against the evidence. The more complex the factors that need to be considered in addressing a problem the easier it is for us to overlook a critical point or draw invalid comparisons. Bayes’ helps us to clarify thinking about the most complex of issues, including those in the social sciences and history. *

Why Bayes?

Tucker writes as a philosopher and concurs with the above assessments of other authors addressed in my earlier posts. Philosophers like to clarify the complexities they are discussing and are apt to use illustrative symbols to this end.

Philosophers find often that formal representation, Bayesian probability in our case, clarifies and concentrates the discussion. Some historians and many classicists may not be as used to this form of representation as their philosophical colleagues. . . . When I use formal representation, I express the same concepts in words, for the benefit of readers who are not accustomed to formal notation. (p. 22)

Historians ask questions like the following:

To what degree does a piece of evidence contribute or not to the confirmation of a hypothesis, given background conditions? (p. 96)

Specifically:

To what extent does a similar saying in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke support, or not support, the Q hypothesis, given everything else we know that is relevant to the question?

To what extent does the passage “born of a woman” in Galatians 4:4 support, or not, the hypothesis that the author believed Jesus was an historical person in the recent past, given everything else we know about Galatians, that verse in particular and its context, and evidence for Jesus?

The Bayesian theorem purports to state formally the relation between a particular piece of evidence and the hypothesis. (p. 96)

In the fifty or so pages of chapter 3 Tucker demonstrates

that an interpretation of Bayesian logic is the best explanation for the actual practices of historians. (p. 96) read more »

Joel Watts Fails to Defend His DMCA Takedown Application Against Vridar

Today I received notice from WordPress that I was free to restore to public access my blog post in which I exposed Joel Watts as an incompetent scholar and lazy fool with respect to his efforts to argue against mythicists and even against the generally accepted nature of history itself as understood among historians. He did not contest my counter-claim to the original takedown notice within the 14 days required.

Screen Shot 2013-07-17 at 8.39.06 PMBut after learning that Joel had clearly turned back his system clock to make it look like he had indeed sent me an email to try to arrange a one-to-one settlement to the dispute as required, and that he had subsequently removed the Creative Commons notice to the page that I had (rightfully) copied for critical review, I sent an amended counter-notice four days later. I asked about this and Automattic assured me that the amended counter-notice made no difference to the time schedule and that I am free to republish the post in question. read more »

Brodie’s Mythicist Case: The Facts

memoirUpdated with additional conclusion 17th July

Thomas Brodie argues that the Gospel accounts of Jesus, both his deeds and teachings, are like other literature of the era insofar as they are creative re-writings of earlier literary sources. The best known example of such creative imitation in the classical world is Virgil’s use of Homer’s epics to create the Aeneid. What is less well known is how pervasive this sort of literary imitation (and creative emulation) was in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Many scholars have pinpointed isolated passage in the Gospels that appear to be derived from other literature (e.g. Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus is very like similar miracles by Elijah and Elisha) but Brodie goes well beyond these arguments and into a quite different dimension of literary analysis, as I will explain below. He also argues that the hypothesis that the Gospels are derived from oral traditions is flawed for many reasons.

No-one who has read Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery can can ever legitimately accuse Brodie of resorting to “extreme parallelomania” in order to argue his case. Indeed, scholars as reputable as Charles H. Talbert and Wilfrid Cantrell Smith found Brodie’s thesis to be worthy of wider serious consideration. Anyone who dismisses his arguments as even at times stooping to superficial dot-point comparisons of prepositions was never paying attention to what they claim they read. (I have suppressed the name of the prime culprit in order to protect the guilty.)

In Chapter 7 of Beyond the Quest Brodie gives a 26 page detailed explanation of what is involved in identifying the source of Luke 9:57-62 in 1 Kings 19. Six of those 26 pages set out in small font the relevant Greek texts and translations side by side. This is the sort of detail that Brodie explains he did not have space to include in his 2004 tome (680+ pages) identifying the sources of New Testament writings, The Birthing of the New Testament. But of those 680+ pages Brodie only gave a 6 page explanation of how those six verses are derived from 1 Kings 19. In Beyond the Quest we are treated to the full course banquet.

Getting Inside What Is Happening

Studies of how ancient writers adapted or transformed older texts, especially of how the New Testament used the Old Testament, are now becoming commonplace, but it is useful to look at an example closely because the transforming process can seem strange. (Beyond, p. 51)

read more »

Making of a Mythicist, Act 2, Scene 3 (“That is an important thesis”)

memoirThe theme of Act 2 is how Brodie learned that the biblical writers found much of their material in literary sources.

In 1980 Brodie met Joseph Fitzmyer in Washington, DC, and asked him to comment on an article he (Brodie) had had published in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament the previous year. It was on Luke’s use of Chronicles. After considering the argument Fitzmyer set Brodie on a new journey with one question:

‘Is the process you are invoking found elsewhere in the ancient world?’

fitzmyer

Joseph Fitzmyer

Brodie had no answer.

So this is what followed:

As never before I started wading through libraries, and eventually hit on the obvious — the pervasive practice of Greco-Roman literary imitation (mimēsis) and its sundry ancient cousins, many of them Jewish. Jewish practices included rewriting and transforming older texts; and Jewish terms included rewritten Bible, inner-biblical exegesis, and the processes known rather loosely as midrash, Hebrew for searching — in this case searching for meaning.

What I had noticed within the Bible was the tip of the iceberg. Here was a whole world of diverse ways of deliberately reshaping diverse sources.

The process I was invoking was not just present in the ancient word — it was at the very centre of ancient compositions. And the New Testament use of the Old, pivotal though it is, is just part of the larger pattern whereby the Bible as a whole distils the larger world of ancient writing. (Beyond, p. 44 – my bolding and formatting)

Biblical studies, Brodie reflects, “had developed in a world where the very concept of any form of imitation was fading, and aversion to the notion of imitation had affected even classical studies.” Though he had studied both Virgil and Homer in high school there was no teaching that one had imitated the other. The Oxford Classical Dictionary had no entry for imitation until its 1996 (third) edition.

Traditional source criticism

read more »

Joel Watts Responds to Being Caught Out Liking a Mythicist’s Work

Updated about 90 minutes after original posting. 

Joel Watts, I am very happy to say, has for the first time ever addressed me in a civil tone. His first words to me were two years ago and are on record for posterity here. It was downhill from that point on. Until today when he left a comment (no, two comments) on my blog. (Gee, I wonder why he didn’t leave a comment on my blog as DMCA required him to do when he believed I was “stealing” his mental property.)

Of course, unless Joel Watts issues a sworn statement to the contrary (and we all know since his DMCA foray to shut down one of my posts that embarrassed his knickers down to his socks that he is fond of establishing his credibility through sworn statements) we all know that Joel Watts would never have come within two flicks of a coin toss to reading anything by Thomas L. Brodie had he ever known in advance that Brodie was “a mythicist”.

But in sweet ignorance he fell for his arguments hook, line and sinker. Brodie was “a giant”, his work “a masterpiece”. Delicious irony, in the same book Joel Watts says the work of “mythicists” is only “pseudo-scholarship”! (p. 3). So Joel Watts is caught out reading “pseudo-scholarship” and discovering (in blissful ignorance of its provenance) that it is really “a masterpiece”!!!

So what must Joel do now to save any face? Why, he must declare ME the in the realm of “fandom” (inference of mindlessness, of course) of Brodie. That’s the implication of his new post, How do you solve a problem like… Brodie fandom…

Never let anyone fault Joel Watts with reading and learning the facts before he writes what he wills. As anyone who has read my posts on Brodie should know, I do have some reservations about some of Brodie’s “parallels”. I do believe there are stronger cases to be made for alternative explanations in some instances. Frankly, I am surprised any mainstream scholar would have embraced Brodie’s The Birthing of the New Testament as wholeheartedly as Joel has done. (I recently posted some reviews of Brodie’s work here to give readers a taste of how Brodie’s work has been received by the establishment: reviews in post 1; reviews in post 2).

Moreover, I was writing about Brodie’s work long before, like Joel, I ever knew he was “a mythicist”.

But if a “historicist” (e.g. Watts) likes Brodie, he does so presumably because of superior cranial and synapse functionings. If anyone Watts chooses to label “a mythicist” likes Brodie, he’s a mindless fan. Whatever does he think of the frail Thomas L. Brodie himself whose shoulders are still bearing up the weight of one who has all this time thought him to be a “giant”?

So it’s a bit late for Joel to learn that, like Richard Carrier, I do not believe Brodie’s arguments are necessarily the strongest case for a Christ Myth hypothesis, though his arguments definitely do lead to that inevitable conclusion. Or is Joel smarting because he can see now that I was right to have recognized from the outset the mythicist implications of Brodie’s arguments?

But I do believe in getting the facts out. And that’s why I am doing a series now on one of Brodie’s books, just as I have done many other series on other works of mythicists and “historicists” alike. Perhaps the Master of _arts should read those posts and learn something.

So what must Joel Watts now do to save face over being caught out praising a mythicist argument to the high heavens?

Why, he must needs find a way to yap and nip at any apparent “mythicist” who ever saw merit in Brodie’s arguments.

But I especially love this concluding paragraph from Time Lord Dr What:

read more »

Making of a Mythicist, Act 2, Scene 2 (The Verdict Falls)

Edited with additional notes on compatibility with other models of gospel origins 3 hours after original posting.

memoirPrevious posts in this series

Continuing . . .

Brodie is discovering where the New Testament writers found their source material. This is the pattern of literary dependence that he was beginning to see (elaborated with details from Birthing of the New Testament):

  • A series of sayings in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 5 and 11 — beatitudes, antitheses, revelatory cry . . .)
    • were a distillation of Deuteronomy
    • and to a lesser extent, Sirach
  • Early epistles, following tone of Matthew’s “sayings/logia”,
    • also drew upon the Septuagint (e.g. 1 Corinthians’ use of the Pentateuch, esp Deuteronomy)
  • An early form of Luke-Acts, Proto-Luke,
    • modelled on the Elijah-Elisha narrative,
    • also drawing upon Deuteronomy (other scholars first discerned this),
    • and 1 Corinthians
  • The Gospel of Mark,
    • drawing upon Proto-Luke,
    • some epistles (e.g. 1 Peter)
    • and Septuagint (also the Elijah-Elisha narrative)
  • Gospel of Matthew is completed in its current form,using
    • the earlier kernel of sayings (see above)
    • the Gospel of Mark,
    • and with further input from Deuteronomy,
    • and probably Tobit,
    • and Romans.
  • The Gospel of John,
    • using Matthew,
    • Mark
    • and Proto-Luke
  • Canonical Luke-Acts,
    • making use of Matthew,
    • Mark,
    • Proto-Luke,
    • John,
    • Deuteronomy,
    • and epics such as the Aeneid
    • and Josephus.

I like the idea of a pre- or proto-Matthean collection of sayings. The earliest “Fathers” seem to make a lot of use of such a compilation with apparently little or no knowledge of a fuller Gospel of Matthew. (But of course I also like to date the Gospels to the second century, with Mark’s imagery linked more pointedly to the Second Jewish War — Bar Kochba and Hadrian — than the first.)

I’d also like to study Brodie’s idea of Proto-Luke to see if it is compatible with Joseph Tyson’s understanding of an Original Luke.

And I’m especially happy to see Brodie also places canonical Luke-Acts AFTER John! That really does have so much going for it — ever since another “mythicist”, Paul-Louis Couchoud, broached the idea. But also see Shellard, Matson, Lawrence Wills, and others.

Such a sequence pointed to a complex literary and historical process, provided a framework for approaching the NT writings, outlined a solution for the Synoptic Problem, and a context for discussing John.

But was it correct?

After 48 hours in an overcrowded Beirut prison on suspicion of being a spy for Israel (in the wake of an Israeli raid on Lebanon) Brodie returned to Normandy.

There, for what eventually became two and a half years, I scrutinized the primary texts more closely, elaborating all the time, trying to some degree to articulate the criteria for establishing literary dependence, and constantly testing, testing, testing. (Beyond, p. 34) read more »

Making of a Mythicist, Act 2, Scene 1 (Brodie’s Odyssey)

memoirThe earlier posts, “Act 1” covered Brodie’s Part One of Beyond the Quest. That covered the period of Brodie’s intellectual discoveries from his late teen years till June 1972 (when he was about 30 years of age). Much of the setting was Trinidad. Brodie titled that Part of his book, his first four chapters, “The First Revolution: Historical Investigations” and explained its theme:

Becoming aware that biblical narratives are not necessarily reliable accounts of history.

The posts covering this section:

We now come to Part Two.

Part II

The Second Revolution: Literary Sources

Becoming aware of where biblical writers found much of their material

Chapter 5

The setting is Europe, Normandy. 1972. Brodie is studying for exams in Rome.

While in Trinidad he had taught the Gospel so Matthew knew it well. Now he was studying Deuteronomy when the abductive moment flashed:

Now I was focused on Deuteronomy when I suddenly said ‘That is like Matthew, that is so like Matthew’ — something about the sense of community, the discourses, the blessings and curses, the mountain setting. (p. 31)

Other similarities suggested themselves in the following days:

  • aspects of the Elijah-Elisha narrative “showed startling similarities to Luke-Acts”
  • the book of Wisdom’s confrontation between Wisdom and the kings of the earth was in some ways suggestive of the meeting between Jesus and Pilate in the Gospel of John

While in Jerusalem, at the École Biblique, a center of biblical historical and archaeological studies, Brodie continued his study of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) with Matthew in mind. Only flimsy and tenuous connections with Matthew could be noticed, however, until he reached Deuteronomy 15.

Since beginning this series I have discovered James McGrath’s distortion of Brodie’s book so where appropriate I should make clear what Brodie really says. McGrath speaks of Brodie’s “extreme parellelomania”. It is one thing to question and debate specific claims that certain passages were borrowed from others, but quite another to dismiss any such argument out of hand because we don’t like its implications. I emphasize the passages that clearly escaped McGrath’s notice.

Connections with Matthew seemed few and flimsy. Then suddenly, in Deuteronomy 15, the search came to life. The repeated emphasis on remission resonated with Matthew’s emphasis on forgiveness (Mt. 18). Both use similar Greek terminology. Obviously such similarity proved nothing. But further comparison revealed more links. And the Deuteronomic word for debt, daneion, is unknown elsewhere in the Bible — except in Matthew 18. Gradually the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. Matthew 18 had used first-century materials, including Mark, but it had also absorbed Deuteronomy 15. (p. 32)

Here is a copy of Brodie’s table on this particular comparison from another work of his, The Birthing of the New Testament: read more »

Can Democracy Survive a Muslim Election Victory?

Christopher Houston

Christopher Houston

Christopher Houston, head of the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Sydney, raises some interesting questions in his contribution to Muslim Secular Democracy, “Militant Laicists, Muslim Democrats, and Liberal Secularists: Contending Visions of Secularism in Turkey”.

Do those of us who believe in a secular democratic system need to broaden our vision of what a secular democracy can look like? Is our democratic way of life potentially threatened more by new social groups (Muslims) emerging in our midst of by our unfounded fear of those new groups? Is a Muslim-led government ever compatible with a secular society?

Does Turkey (and Egypt?) have anything to teach us about the future of democratic institutions in a world (Western and beyond) that is destined to find Muslims playing an increasingly influential role?

 

Adalet_ve_Kalkınma_Partisi-logoThe reason Turkey’s conservative Muslim party (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) and its supporters favour the Western democratic system is simple. They represent the majority. It is the democratic system that has brought them to power, firstly in 2002, and again in 2007 and 2011.

There are many “middle ground” Turks, too, who are apparently content enough with the current system even though they may not all vote for the AKP. These middle-of-the-roaders are not Islamists. But they seem to be content enough to accept the re-election of the AKP Muslim party. The AKP does, after all, “claim to be inspired by secularism and democracy” (Houston, p. 255).

There are other “secularists”, however, who fear the democratically elected Muslim party is attempting to “Islamize” the nation by stealth, and these people are increasingly expressing disenchantment with Western-style democracy on the one hand, and a preference for a military coup on the other. Though a minority, they do have close ties with key military figures who are sympathetic to their views.

We saw what happened in Egypt, and before that, in Algeria, when democratically elected Muslims found themselves removed by the military. Both coups appear to have had significant popular support.

What leads them to believe that the democratically elected Muslims are secretly turning Turkey into an Islamic state? read more »

Joel Watts Acclaims Thomas Brodie a Scholarly “Giant” and His Work “A Masterpiece”

wattsongiants

Watts explains that to write his book, Mimetic Criticism, he had to stand upon three giants: MacDonald, Brodie and Winn.

Rabid anti-mythicist Joel Watts has hailed the major work of mythicist Thomas L. Brodie, The Birthing of the New Testament, as “a masterpiece” in his own newly published book, Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark:

[Brodie’s] 2004 work, The Birthing of the New Testament, exploring the answers to the creation of the New Testament, stands as a masterpiece. His thesis is rather remarkable and easily within the realm of Roman literary tradition. . . . Brodie . . . has provided us with a better methodology . . . (Mimetic, p. 19)

In The Birthing of the New Testament Brodie, who has since “come out” confessing that his work led him to conclude Jesus did not exist (see various posts in the Brodie Memoir Archive), expounds in depth his methods and arguments for the literary sources of the Gospels, and effectively demolishes any need for a hypothetical “oral tradition” to explain any of their narrative input. The deeds, teachings and even the characters in the gospels are for most part re-writings of the Jewish Scriptures.

But Joel Watts, who has nothing but verbal slime to flick at the intellectual competence and personal character of anyone who leans towards a mythicist view, did not know that when he wrote that Brodie’s arguments were “a masterpiece”!

My my, what one will acknowledge if one does not hear the M word in what one is reading!

This brings to mind Brodie’s own observation that other scholars and teachers did not have a problem with his methods, only his conclusions:

He listened to me patiently, and looked carefully through some of the manuscript. I brought the conclusions to his attention.

‘You cannot teach that’, he said quietly.

I explained that I didn’t want to teach the conclusions, just the method, as applied to limited areas of the New Testament. If the method was unable to stand the pressure of academic challenge, from students and other teachers, then I could quietly wave it good-bye and let the groundless conclusions evaporate in silence.

It was a Saturday afternoon. He needed time to think it over. He would see me in a few days.  (Brodie, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, p. 36)

Brodie learned to keep silent about the implications of his arguments in his earlier published works. He explains why in his Memoir. He was advised by publishers and scholars that his conclusions (not his methods) were unacceptable.

Other scholars who have advanced similar arguments have evidently been aware of the conclusions to which they intuitively lead. They have therefore made a point of  explicitly reminding readers they are not questioning the historicity of Jesus or the fundamentals of the Gospel accounts. That they need to protest so consistently tells me they well understand the logical conclusions to be drawn from those arguments — but faith (or security of academic tenure according to Joseph Hoffmann) must, as always, override reason. More on this at the end of this post.

Even James McGrath endorsed it, (until . . . . ?) read more »