by Neil Godfrey
This is my response to James McGrath’s post, Mythicist Language is Designed to Make Lies Sound Truthful. Is McGrath really saying that a mythicist argument by Brodie is actually a set of “lies”? If so, that underscores the very point I have been making about how censorship works in academia — and McGrath is himself one of the most stalwart of guardians of “correct thoughts” in the arena of New Testament studies.
James McGrath continues to refer to even the most dry, factual posts and writings that lean towards favoring the Christ myth thesis as “rants” and “lies” — presumably solely on the grounds that any writing that leans to such a conclusion must by definition be a “rant” or a “lie”.
And THAT is exactly why it is an Orwellian joke that such a person should be considered as qualified to speak about censorship and academic freedom in the context of the Christ myth. THAT is how censorship in academia works. It is through this sort of institutional intellectual bullying — denigrating anyone who advances certain types of alternative views as peddlers of “rants” or “lies” — that we see censorship working in all sorts of areas. There is no need for a “conspiracy” — and of course McGrath likes to intimate in his same post that mythicists are “conspiracy peddlers”, too — which is a real rant and lie. Academia is not immune from this sort of subtle systemic censorship, and never has been, as Julien Benda pointed out so dramatically in another context with “The Treason of the Intellectuals”. What was true of France in his day has been just as true of the English speaking intelligentsia up to our own day. And if it is so blatant in the political arena, we should not be surprised if it is alive in the world of public religious convictions, too. Politics and religion, the most ideological of our academic “disciplines”.
The same old
Of course McGrath will protest that he has engaged with and rebutted mythicist arguments many, many times. He will wave his hand and invite readers to look at all those posts and comments he has made in the past.
I encourage everyone who reads such hand-waving invitations of his to hold him to account and insist he direct a reader to a specific post or comment. (Note that’s exactly what I did in my earlier post to which he is now responding.) I then encourage the same persons to follow up any related links that point to my or others’ replies to his “arguments”. Finally, I invite anyone who does this to let me know if I am wrong — if McGrath has indeed ever, at any point, engaged with any mythicist argument in a serious way — that is, with more than sarcasm, ridicule, or blatant false portrayal of the mythicist argument he claims to be addressing.
For that matter, I encourage anyone to ask McGrath to actually repeat what he understands any mythicist argument to be. I used to do that and only ended up having him declare me insane for expecting him to give him a direct, unequivocal and up-front answer. He is also on record as saying he refuses to repeat any mythicist argument for fear of lending it respectability.
That is, McGrath, the advocate of free-speech and , will not even repeat an argument he is criticizing. Does he take the same position with Young Earth Creationism or any other view he is critically analyzing?
Déjà vu all over again
The experiences of Thomas L. Thompson, Philip R. Davies, Niels Peter Lemche and others know exactly how McGrath’s brand of intellectual intimidation (via character and intellectual slander) worked in the arena of Old Testament studies when so called “minimalists” began to question the historicity of the patriarchs, then David and Solomon, and even the biblical account of the United Kingdom of Israel and history of the biblical kingdom of Judah up to the time of the Assyrian conquests.
Who’s a “nobody” now?
McGrath says the Christ myth idea is “something that no one could really believe” — yet, of course, he has to explain, then, how a growing number of scholars are coming out and concurring in its plausibility. Note that McG does not say “no New Testament professor could really believe” but that “no-one could really believe”.
Let’s stop there for a moment and realize what McG is saying. He is saying “no-one” (presumably he means no-one of any sense or who is basically informed) could believe in the Christ myth theory. Never mind, as Richard Carrier points out,
Combine this with Brodie’s defection to mythicism, alongside Thompson’s, and (like Thompson’s) the publicly professed “historicity agnosticism” of Arthur Droge, professor of early Christianity at UCSD, and Kurt Noll, associate professor of religion at Brandon University, and Ehrman’s argument that only amateurs and outsiders take the Jesus Myth theory seriously is now in the dust. There is still, certainly, a litany of crank and amateur mythicist nonsense. But there is also a serious case to be made, by serious and well-qualified scholars. And they need to be paid attention to, not dismissed and mistreated, their arguments straw manned or ignored.
To these names we must also add other reputable scholars like Philip R. Davies who contributed to Is This Not the Carpenter? who are quite prepared to concede the plausibility of the Christ myth idea.
The new New Testament logic: Any two statements found in the same chapter are always found in a cause-effect relationship!
So when he reads of a reputable New Testament scholar who does believe this, he must argue through the “fog of war”. That is, it is sufficient for McGrath that quite distinct scenarios Brodie relates are found within a certain cluster of pages (“they were mentioned in the same part of the book”) for them to be connected.
This is an entirely new standard of academic argument, one I have never encountered before. One can, on this basis, disregard the details of what is written and creatively connect quite discrete incidents entirely on the basis that they are found “in the same part of the book”! So when Brodie describes an incident in which he was a student, and a few pages later he describes the response of potential publishers to something he submitted for publication, then according to McG’s methodology, what he experienced as a student somehow explains why a publisher declined to publish Brodie’s manuscript even though Brodie points out quite different reasons!
Because these two incidents are found within a certain page range in the book McGrath wants us to believe it is perfectly reasonable for us to think the two are connected in a direct cause-effect relationship. Why, what one studies as a student is what one later wants published, says McGrath. No doubt this is often true. But it is not valid to judge a particular incident on the basis of what is “commonly found”, especially when that particular incident comes with its own specific set of facts — that McGrath must, and does, simply ignore.
Never mind what Thomas L. Brodie wrote about each incident and the many things in between. The details — where the devils live — are irrelevant, it seems, in McGrath’s thinking. So McG writes:
Click through, read the post, see what is going on. Look carefully at what is being done. Look at how, despite my acknowledgment that I may have run characteristics of Brodie’s student work and his attempts at publication together (since they were mentioned in the same part of the book, and if such students publish anything, it tends to be work produced in the course of their studies), . . .
McGrath simply cannot bring himself to accept the plain words of Brodie that I copied in my original post: that the publishers said they could not publish any work that argued Jesus was not an historical person.
To do so, McGrath would have to re-think his entire argument that it is mythicists’ conclusions, not their arguments, that are the reason they get no traction in academia.
Owellian deflection or McGrathian confusion?
Now McGrath is faulting me (in the above quote) for faulting me for supposedly trying to deflect attention from the “real issues” and turn readers’ attention to something minor.
. . . Godfrey continues to focus on such minor details in order to distract from the main point, which is that Brodie’s methods are problematic. They allow any conclusion one wishes to be drawn, as long as one has sufficient creativity to make connections between texts.
I have had occasion before to remark upon McGrath’s astonishing ability read without reading. I can understand. I recall times past when I read something with hostile intent only to later discover that I had completely missed the point of what I was “reading”.
My post, as I made very plain from the outset, was to address just a small cluster of factual errors in McGrath’s review. They were small in number but huge in significance. McGrath said that Brodie indicated his work was rejected by publishers because of lack of footnotes etc. I demonstrated that Brodie in fact said publishers explicitly stated they would not publish his work because it argued that Jesus was not historical. His reference to lack of footnotes had to do with an earlier period as a student, and he explicitly makes clear he had to apply all he learned as a student to make his work acceptable to publishers!
In other words, McGrath is now trying to argue black is white, a lie is truth, up is down. I call this Orwellian.
Facts are such minor details!
McGrath says that my point — that McGrath has completely misrepresented one facet of Brodie’s words, so seriously that such misrepresentation amounts to an outright (if unwitting) falsehood — is a “minor” one. The real issue is Brodie’s methodology!
But as Carrier pointed out in another post, and as I myself indicated I would argue in a future one, Brodie’s book is not in itself an argument for Jesus mythicism. It is an autobiographical journey of how he came to this view. So McGrath cannot argue on the basis of this book that his method is maniacal “parallelomania”. His detailed arguments are elsewhere. I know. In my preparation for the next post on Brodie’s memoir, I have had to turn to his other works to explain the arguments to which he is referring in that memoir.
And McGrath at no point validly demonstrates his point that Brodie’s argument is invalid. He does refer to one instance of Brodie referring to some points of commonality, but I will show in a future post that McGrath has once again overlooked what Brodie said in addition to those points. McGrath’s reading is astonishingly selective. One might almost think it is hostile.
More Kafkaesque than Orwellian
McGrath likes to say that mythicists have opportunities to advance their arguments in academia. But he also warns anyone who might be tempted to do so that their work will be considered a rant and a lie, or a case of invalid parallelomania. You are told that if you do not “laugh out loud” at any argument by a mythicist you are somehow not a part of any and every sane person’s company.
The arguments of mythicists will be read with hostile intent and any two discrete details in the same paper will somehow be connected by the reviewer in some fanciful cause-effect manner in order to find a reason to reject the paper. This is not Orwellian. This is Kafkaesque.
The reason mythicism doesn’t make it, McG says,
is not due to inappropriate censorship, but mythicists not following the rules of scholarly inquiry.
New Testament scholars have “rules of inquiry”? Like concocting a cause-effect relationship between data found within the same chapter simply because the data is in the same chapter and the reader can imagine a plausible connection — even though it ignores and blatantly contradicts the author’s explanations?
Give me the sound methods (not necessarily conclusions) that are found valid by the likes of Thompson, Davies, Droge, Noll, Price and even Brodie any day.