Daily Archives: 2014-12-30 21:20:42 UTC

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If your comment does not immediately appear the reason is very likely that it has been caught up in moderation for some reason (probably an unfathomable one) — Apologies to those whose comments I have just discovered and released from there only now.


The Churlishness of a Christian Soldier Scholar

John Dickson

John Dickson

I was appalled to read the following on Raphael Lataster’s Facebook page just now. Raphael Lataster, we recall, was the author of the Washington Post article questioning the existence of Jesus. The article was also on the scholarly blog, The Conversation. See The Jesus Myth Question Comes to The Washington Post. John Dickson is a reasonably well-known Australian Christian evangelical apologist who once taught Raphael in a class on “The Historical Jesus to the Written Gospels” at Sydney University.

Incensed, John Dickson wrote a piece for the Australian national broadcaster, It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas … Mythicism’s in the Air.

In response James McGrath predictably jumped on the opportunity to fan more flack against mythicism with A Professor on His Mythicist Former Student. He singled out this little misleading piece:

As his former lecturer, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Raphael’s 1000 words on Jesus would not receive a pass mark in any history class I can imagine, even if it were meant to be a mere “personal reflection” on contemporary Jesus scholarship. Lataster is a better student than his piece suggests. But the rigours of academia in general – and the discipline of history, in particular – demand that his numerous misrepresentations of scholarship would leave a marker little choice but to fail him.

Misleading? Raphael was not writing a “history” essay and he was not so much addressing “scholarship” as he was unaddressed questions relating to the evidence. But Tertullian-like misrepresentation is par for the course in this business. (I have read two of Dickson’s books on “history” and have found them too shallow and trite to bother posting about here. Maybe I should.)

Anyway, this is the disturbing development I have just read on Raphael’s Facebook page: [* 8th January 2014 I was notified the following was a misunderstanding; John Dickson had not defriended Raphael as it appeared. See comment by Andy.]

Raphael Lataster
December 26 at 8:13pm ·

John Dickson surprisingly (we have always been very friendly) defriended me after he wrote a (grossly inaccurate) reply article to my own on Jesus’ possible ahistoricity, and continues to refuse to debate with me on Jesus’ resurrection (i.e. the Jesus he actually believes in). I would think that believers would relish the chance to show their courage and defend their faith. I’m not that scary… If anyone would like to see this debate happen, do let John and I know. John’s contact: read more »

Evidence for Pre-Gospel Oral Traditions and Related Questions

jesus_disciples_iconIt’s easier for me to address these thoughts posted as a comment to my previous post with a new post here.

I’ll try to take a crack at it. I’m not saying I agree with all of the following, but I think it’s essentially how we got here.

How we got here (i.e. to the conclusion that oral tradition is the necessary and best explanation for the source material of the Gospels) or how we rationalize our assumption? The Gospels-Acts narrative itself leads us to expect an oral tradition between Jesus and the gospels — we are led to picture evangelist and apostolic activity as well as ordinary church members spreading the word — so I suspect oral tradition is a default assumption.

Now it is important, of course, to find evidence in the support of any hypothesis like this and your following list reminds me of several of the supporting arguments used to support it.

But without wanting to sound like a nefarious “hyper-sceptic” it is also my understanding that good method requires us to seriously evaluate counter-evidence, too. How does one raise this question without sounding like some nihilistic anti-god anti-Christ atheist who hates Christianity and everything that is good and decent in the world, all sound critical biblical scholarship and wants to see every religion wiped off the face of the earth?

I am an atheist but like Tamas Pataki I don’t know if eliminating religion would really make the world a better place any more than eradicating all insect pests would really be in humanity’s best interests. Moreover, I can’t imagine how establishing that there really were oral traditions between a Jesus event and the written gospels would make the slightest difference to me personally. I would want to learn and know more about them if we had some basis for establishing their existence.

I will omit the “must’ve” argument that tries to explain away the decades between the historical Jesus and the first gospel. Since scholars assume the HJ and they concede that the gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses much later and in a different language, they conclude that the traditions “must’ve” floated around, passed on orally for many years. That’s a circular argument at best. At worst, it’s a deus ex machina that rescues the gospels from their suspicious circumstances.

Yep, that’s the nagging doubt that obliges one to raise the question (without being a “hyper-sceptic”.) read more »