Search Results for: mimesis


2018-08-12

Genre of Gospels, Acts and OT Primary History: INDEX

by Neil Godfrey

Genre can be a highly fluid concept. In studies of Gospels I’ve noticed that discussions of genre sometimes overlap with intertextuality. Moreover, we may conclude that an ancient narrative belongs to the genre “history”, but once we learn what “history” could mean to the ancients we quickly move into discussions about the place of fictional tales in such works. Midrash is another concept that easily intrudes into any discussion of the genre of the gospels.

By genre here I mean the general character of a work, whether it be history or biography, prose epic or novella — or at least the rough ancient equivalents of those. Questions of intertextuality (and its sister midrash) I have relegated to techniques of how certain literature was composed regardless of its genre. Nonetheless I am sure I have succumbed to some blurring of the concept in the list chosen below.

Posts by Tim Widowfield are so indicated. All others are by me.

.

Genre of Bible’s Historical Books

.

read more »


Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

Here is an annotated list of Vridar posts addressing Daniel Gullotta’s review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus.

Gullotta, Daniel N. 2017. “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15 (2–3): 310–46. https://doi.org/10.1163/17455197-01502009.

1. Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

(2017-12-13)

My first-thoughts on reading the review. An overview and plans for the following posts.

–o–

2. Gullotta’s Review of Carrier’s OHJ: A Brief Comment

(2017-12-14)

My overall assessment of Gullotta’s review, noting in particular his serious failure to address the historical methodology of Carrier.

–o–

3. How Bayes’ Theorem Proves the Resurrection (Gullotta on Carrier once more)

(2017-12-15)

This post addresses Gullotta’s fallacy when he writes

Yet I cannot help but compare Carrier’s approach to the work of Richard Swinburne, who likewise uses Bayes’ theorem to demonstrate the high probability of Jesus’ resurrection, and wonder if it is not fatally telling that Bayes’ theorem can be used to both prove the reality of Jesus’ physical resurrection and prove that he had no existence as a historical person.

–o–

4. What’s the Matter with Biblical Scholarship? Part 3

(Tim Widowfield – 2017-12-27)

Tim addresses Daniel Gullotta’s use of the Gish Gallop in his review of Carrier, drawing attention to yet another instance of a biblical scholar demonstrating shallow yet tendentious knowledge of classical sources.

–o–

5. Who Depoliticized Early Christianity?

(Tim Widowfield – 2018-01-02)

Tim addresses Daniel Gullotta’s complaint that

Simply put, [Richard] Carrier inadvertently depoliticizes early Christianity. (Daniel N. Gullotta 2016, “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts“, Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, p. 333)

–o–

6. Gullotta, Homer, and the Training of a Correct Scholar

(2018-01-05)

Nicholas Covington of Hume’s Apprentice has posted an excellent analysis of a section of Daniel Gullotta’s review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: Homer, the Gospels, Gullotta and Mythicism. . . . . Nicholas, like Tim, demonstrates that Gullotta is being trained well at Yale to become a well-respected scholar of the Bible and early Christianity.

Unfortunately that is not a compliment, as the post demonstrates.

–o–

7. The Function of the Term: “Born of a Woman”

(Tim Widowfield – 2018-01-15)

Have we, after all, been making too much of Galatians 4:4? That’s the question I keep asking myself. After much reflection, I believe yes, we have, but perhaps not for the reason you would expect.

In Daniel Gullotta’s “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts,” he writes:

Furthermore, while Paul does use the word γενόμενον [genómenon] (to be made/to become)  [see: γίνομαι (ginomai)] instead of the typical γεννάω [gennáō] (to be born), γενόμενον does appear in relation to human births in other pieces of ancient literature, such as Plato’s Republic and Josephus’ Antiquities [of the Jews].61 It is also noteworthy that the similarly worded phrase ‘born of a woman’ is also found within the Book of Job, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Gospel of Thomas, as well as in other early Christian texts, each time indicating a human birth.62 With this convention in mind then, Paul’s expression, ‘born of a woman’, is fitting and certainly not exceptional. Thus, when Paul writes of Jesus’ coming into the world (Gal 4.4-6; cf. Phil 2.5-8; 2 Cor 8.9; Rom 8.3-4), it is apparent that it should be taken at face value to indicate Jesus being born like any other ordinary Jewish human being, that is, ‘born of a woman, born under the law.’ (Gullotta 2016, p. 329)

61 Josephus Ant., 1.303; 7.154; Plato, Rep., 8.553.

62 Cf. Job 14.1; 15.14; 25.4; 1 qs 11.20-21; 1 qh 13.14; 18.12-13; Matt 11.11; GThom 15; Origen, Against Celsus 1.70; Ps.-Clem., Homily 3.52.

I have preserved Gullotta’s footnotes above, because we’re going to take a look at all of his references to see if his assertions hold up. We’ll see whether the phrase “born of a woman” is (1) fitting and (2) certainly not exceptional. Ultimately, we’ll try to determine the function of the phrase in its context in Galatians.

–o–

8. Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus”: that “born of a woman” passage (again)

(2018-01-16)

I draw attention to Tim’s post above.

–o–

9. Continuing Gullotta’s Review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

(2018-08-09)

I resume the series in order to ensure its completion. After addressing the ironical bias in Gullotta’s choice of assistants in writing his review I direct my attention the first of the six points to which Gullotta turns his focus:

The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s

  1. claim that a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed,
  2. his understanding of Jesus as a non-human and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus,
  3. his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces,
  4. his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community,
  5. his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths,
  6. and his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic arche-type as a means of comparison.

(Gullotta, p. 325. my formatting/numbering for quick reference)

I show that Gullotta has misunderstood the place of Carrier’s interpretation of Philo’s view of a pre-celestial angel named Jesus in his larger argument.

–o–

10. Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s argument #2: relating to Jesus’ birth and humanity

(2018-08-10)

The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s

  1. claim that a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed,
  2. his understanding of Jesus as a non-human and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus,
  3. his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces,
  4. his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community,
  5. his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths,
  6. and his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic arche-type as a means of comparison.

(Gullotta, p. 325. my formatting/numbering for quick reference)

Once more on Gullotta’s criticism of Carrier’s treatment of “born of a woman” and other arguments for the celestial nature of Jesus in the Pauline corpus. That is, #2 in the above list.

–o–

11. Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s argument #3: crucified by demons or Romans?

(2018-08-11)

Addressing Gullotta’s third point of focus, his rebuttal to Carrier’s his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces.

I link to another series in which I have addressed a wide range of historical and contemporary scholarly views on the passage in 1 Corinthians stating that “rulers of this age crucified the lord of glory.”

–o–

12. Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, point #4, “James, the brother of the Lord”

(2018-08-12)

Gullotta disputes Carrier’s argument that the “brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19 was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community. I, too, am sceptical of Carrier’s argument but I attempt to show that Gullotta’s particular objections are fallacious even if conventional.

This post responds to Gullotta’s fourth point of focus (see above).

–o–

13. Gullotta’s Misleading Portrayal of Carrier’s Argument (Gospels Myth or Remembered History? – Part 1)

(2018-08-13)

This post begins to demonstrate that Gullotta’s portrayal of Carrier’s argument is misleading in the extreme, overlooking the bulk of Carrier’s detailed analysis supported with scholarly citations in order to convey Carrier’s views as idiosyncratic and perversely contrary to scholarly conventions.

This is the most difficult of my posts so far discussing Daniel Gullotta’s treatment of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus. On pages 336 to 340 of his review Gullotta conveys the clear impression that Carrier has relied primarily, even perhaps entirely, on Dennis MacDonald’s thesis that the Gospel of Mark was based on Homer’s Odyssey and last two books of the Iliad and has consequently concluded that the gospel is primarily myth rather than remembered history. Gullotta further leads readers to understand that Carrier claimed Jesus was essentially based on Homer’s character Odysseus and that criticisms of MacDonald’s entire thesis equally applied to Carrier’s treatment of the Gospel of Mark. I will demonstrate that all of this representation of Carrier’s argument is grossly misleading. One scarcely knows where to begin.

–o–

14. Gullotta’s Misleading Portrayal of Carrier’s claims…. Part 2

(2018-08-14)

I demonstrate that Gullotta’s attempt to argue that Carrier has relied predominantly on Dennis MacDonald’s Homeric thesis to make his case for the mythical character of gospel narratives is false, overlooking a full 40 pages of detailed arguments Carrier draws from mainstream scholarship.

–o–

15. Gullotta’s Dysrepresentation of Carrier’s Case for the Gospels as Myth … Part 3

(2018-08-16)

I ended my previous post with these words:

From this point Gullotta loses sight of Carrier’s own line of reasoning, sometimes erroneously conflating MacDonald’s and Carrier’s views, and even at one point distorting the meaning of MacDonald’s words in order to fire a salvo at “mythicists” in general.

As I said, trying to get a complete handle on Gullotta’s fifth point is a long haul. I’ll set out the evidence for the assertions in the previous paragraph in my next post.

So from that point I continue.

–o–

16. Further Daniel Gullotta Disrepresentation of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

(2018-08-18)

Gullotta’s suggestion that Carrier should have compared Jesus with biblical figures or Romulus is misplaced given that Carrier in fact did so, in depth. The criticism that Carrier “cannot explain” mimesis of Odysseus is further misplaced given that Carrier does offer an explanation (not mentioned by Gullotta) and in fact dwells far more at length on explanations of other figures such as those from the Jewish bible.

–o–

17. Rank-Raglan hero types and Gullotta’s criticism of Carrier’s use of them

(2018-08-20)

The post demonstrates Gullotta’s failure to understand how folklorists use and interpret archetypes. It also addresses the evidence in Carrier’s work that belies Gullotta’s ad hominem attack on Carrier’s motives and what amounts to an accusation of intellectual dishonesty.

–o–

18. Continuing Gullotta’s Criticism of Carrier’s Use of the Rank-Raglan Archetypes

(2018-08-21)

Quotations from folklorists whom Gullotta cites in other contexts that further show that Carrier has used the archetypes according to the ways folklorists themselves use and understand them. The same quotations demonstrate that Gullotta’s criticisms are based on misunderstandings among biblical scholars that the folklorists have sought to correct.

–o–

19. Gullotta, Carrier and the point of the Rank-Raglan classification (Or, Can Carrier’s RR reference class be justified?)

(2018-08-22)

This post addresses the question: If the Rank-Raglan mythotypes do not prove or disprove historicity (as both Gullotta ironically concedes and as Carrier has made clear from the outset) then what is their point in a debate about the historicity of Jesus?

–o–

20. Gullotta’s Concluding Comments on Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

(2018-08-29)

This post reviews Gullotta’s claim to have addressed “fundamental problems” with Carrier’s argument; the irony of Gullotta citing scholars as if to disarm Carrier’s criticisms seemingly unaware that Carrier discussed those same scholars making the same point; and Gullotta’s gratuitous ad hominem in his final paragraph.

–o–

21. Gullotta on Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus: One Final Irony (or Misunderstanding? or…?)

(2018-08-30)

We look at Gullotta’s apparent confusion between the question of whether Jesus existed and the question of what the (assumed to exist) historical Jesus was like, and how Gullotta attempts to argue that Carrier has failed to appreciate that modern scholars have moved on in their methods. We see that when it comes to the question of historicity the methods used are still the same, even according to Gullotta’s own cited references, and that he has forgotten the starting point of Carrier that was to address a “minimal Jesus”. Hence Gullotta’s criticism that Carrier is targeting an “idealistic” or “absolutely known” figure is misinformed.

–o–

22. Just a small point

(2018-09-04)

An afterthought, post. An addendum. A look at a disappointing footnote but with the observation that such things seem to be par for the course among so many publications in this field.

–o–

 


2017-05-27

Why do professional scholars blog this sort of vacuous nonsense?

by Neil Godfrey

A number of biblical scholars appear to be afflicted with something akin to the Red Scare or the Yellow Menace of the old Cold War days. They don’t need to know much about communism to know that it’s bad and evil and a threat to everything decent and that it appeals mostly to benighted minds in undeveloped nations. Similarly with rumours they hear about those who suggest there are valid reasons to question the historicity of Jesus: they don’t need to know much about it, only that it is a threat that supposedly only appeals to godless amateurs.

Now Jonathan Bernier is a very intelligent man but he sometimes writes about things of which he is evidently poorly informed. Indeed, he offers no evidence of having ever read any work of Price or Doherty or Brodie or Carrier or Wells yet claims to offer insights into mythicist motivations and reasoning that he suggests they themselves may not have considered.

I am referring to a blog post he published on 22nd April (Eastern Standard Time, Australia) titled Mythicism as Christian Mythology. (His blog is Critical Realism and the New Testament. I have had this post in draft for some time but see that now I am about to post about his article JB has removed it. C’est la vie.)

Without offering any citation of, or reference to, any mythicist author Bernier begins his criticism thus:

the standard mythicist appeal to comparative mythology. . . .

The mythicist argument is that the accounts about Jesus are just like those of all sorts of other gods or heroes in the ancient world. . . .

The mythicist argument that the accounts about Jesus are just like those of all sorts of other gods or heroes posits a process that we don’t tend to find elsewhere.

“Accounts of Jesus are just like those of all sorts of other gods?” Where did he get this idea from? Scoffing gossip and rumours repeated in staff wine and cheese parties?

Several of the works I have read by Christ Myth authors inform me that they draw upon mainstream critical biblical scholarship to explain the origins of many of the gospel narratives. Well recognized common literary practices (mimesis, intertextuality) among Greek, Roman and Jewish authors of the day are the primary explanations for the accounts of Jesus among authors like Price, Doherty, Carrier, Wells, Fitzgerald and others.

Next comes the sinister atheism association. Mythicists are equated with atheists, and of course we know by contrast that most good biblical scholars are in their own way exploring and defending their godly faith, don’t we. (Tongue in cheek.)

I think it well and good to describe it [mythicism] as a peculiar form of atheist Christology. . . . . 

if they indeed do not think that God exists in the first place. . . .

If that is the case, given that their attested interests in this matter tend to relate to their atheism. . . .

Something fundamental about their apprehension of the world and themselves is at stake. . . . 

Price calls himself a Christian atheist . . . . And the more I think about it, the more that I wonder if that term should not be applied to all mythicists. 

Thomas Brodie, Tom Harpur, you are both hereby excluded from those who argue for a Christ Myth foundation for Christianity. Your problem is that you are not atheists like Robert Price and you remain stubbornly Christian, so your Christ Myth arguments do not count.

Moreover, prominent mythicist authors who have expressed the highest respect and even admiration for Christianity, even though some of them no longer call themselves Christian, have no place in Jonathan Bernier’s very narrow, most ill-informed, state of the literature. I’m thinking of names not only like Price, Brodie and Harpur above, but also Couchoud, Brandes, Rylands, Detering, Carotta, Freke and Gandy, van der Kaaij among others. To assume that mythicism can only be spawned by god-hating atheists who seek to wipe Christianity from the face of the earth only points to an ivory tower removal from all awareness of the real world.

Then there is the motivation. Mind-reading once again leads the way.

read more »


2016-04-23

Biblical Scholars Reacting . . . Part 2

by Neil Godfrey

Continues from part 1 . . . .

Philip Jenkins in his reaction, The Myth of the Mythical Jesus, has an even more blunt response to anyone who ventures into the “far swamps of extreme crankery” by pursuing questions that have no place among biblical scholars:

Scholarship is what scholars do, and if they don’t do it, it’s not scholarship. That is by far the most important point against the mythicists, and really, nothing more needs to be said.

Jenkins remains silent about Carrier’s book, the book that largely prompted Brian Bethune to ask serious questions about the evidence for the existence of Jesus. One can only conclude Jenkins has not read it and that his confidence that he knows all he needs to know about mythicist arguments is perversely misplaced. After all, it’s not a view “done” by scholars so it would be a waste of time bothering with it. One cannot imagine a more classic illustration of contempt for (ideologically incorrect) public interests.

Such ignorance gives him the confidence that merely repeating a few mantras to a few informal mythicist bylines he may have heard second hand or from some “over zealous riff-raff on the web” is all that he needs to do to persuade right-thinking people to stay clear of the danger zones around those far swamps.

The affirmative evidence for that existence is easily offered, consisting as it does of a sizable body of writings dating from within a half century of the events described.

Those documents are, without question, the most closely debated and analyzed in human history. A vast body of scholars works on those texts and their implications, and they come from a wide body of religious backgrounds – Christians of every possible shade, Jews, skeptics and atheists, and people of various other faiths. Within that scholarly universe, the number of qualified scholars who today deny the historical existence of Jesus is infinitesimal. The consensus on that matter is near-total. (My bolding and formatting in all quotations)

“A paper I had written on a disturbing, ridiculous, and idiosyncratic method used by historicists was rejected by a prominent society of Biblical literature, but was later accepted by a general historical research organisation – forgive me if I feel a smug sense of vindication.[32] This paper dealt with what I call Ehrman’s law, which shall be explained later and discussed throughout this book. My presentation of the paper was very successful, with almost everybody (a room full of proper historians) agreeing with me that this method used by Biblical ‘historians’ is ridiculous and not typical of historians proper.

“[32] Raphael Lataster, “The Gospel According to Bart: The Folly of Ehrman’s Hypothetical Sources” (paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Historical Association, Sydney, 7th July 2015).”

Lataster, Raphael (2015-11-12). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists (Kindle Locations 400-405).  . Kindle Edition.

Mainstream biblical scholars often point to atheists among their ranks as evidence that they are not swayed by Christian bias. Craig Evans in the debate mentioned in my previous post did this when he spoke of the atheist James Crossley arguing that the Gospels were written considerably earlier than even many Christian scholars concede. What Evans was doing in reality was demonstrating that atheist scholars can only survive in the Christian dominated field of biblical studies as long as they conform to the minimal ideological foundations of Christianity. Arguing a Marxist model of Christian origins naturally conforms admirably with the values of many liberal Christians.

In fact neither Bethune nor anyone denies the “near total consensus” in the public face of the biblical studies guild. When prominent authors like Philip Jenkins not only demonstrate their ignorance of the arguments of those “infinitesimally” few scholars but even despite their ignorance insult them as belonging to the “far swamps of crankery”, one has to wonder if Raphael Lataster is quite correct when he writes that the historicity of Jesus is a debate that cannot be conducted among biblical scholars but can only move forward in other history and religion departments.

Hence reaction, neither engagement nor education, is the response.

Jenkins sees no need to bother with anything Carrier might have written nor even with the actual problems raised by Bethune. Leave all that to the “swamps of extreme crankery” — a nice intimidating phrase attached to the pointy headed doubters among those leprous masses.

And so Jenkins proceeds to address what he blindly presumes anonymous ignoramuses argue. The challenging questions of Bethune and Carrier are lost in the far swamps of Jenkins’s awareness and are replaced by some vague general points from the minds of an undefined “they”.

The first vague point unrelated to any of the questions troubling Bethune and that is posed as a substitute for Bethune’s questions:

  • *Contemporary writers do not refer to Jesus

Jenkins’s ignorance of serious mythicist arguments is palpable. Sweeping aside the issues of concern to Brian Bethune and many readers of the Macleans article, Jenkins embarrasses any slightly knowledgeable reader with this “explanation”:

All the canonical sources depict a very plausible Jesus in a very identifiable early first century historical setting. More significant, there are clear and well understood chains of evidence and tradition from Jesus’s time to the writing of those gospels.

Plausibility is a condition of historicity but that is a long step from being an argument for any particular scenario. Historical fiction works because it is equally plausible, set as it is in real times and places. That this point is ever raised as a serious argument for the historicity of Jesus is truly an embarrassment to our intellectual elites. Craig Evans made much of it in his debate with Richard Carrier. Why? It’s so obviously a red-herring, a non sequitur, an offence to anyone who has read any historical fiction, including ancient historical fictional writings.

As for the second point that there are “clear and well understood chains of evidence and tradition from Jesus’s time to the writing of the gospels”? Well, yes, there certainly are “clear and well understood” imaginative constructs of what scholars who presume a core historicity behind the gospel narratives believe must have existed. Of course there is no evidence for those oral traditions. Indeed, works that have seriously challenged the prevailing presumption that “there must have been oral traditions” passed on from eyewitnesses to eventually reach the authors of the gospels have been largely ignored. (See discussions of some of these in the oral tradition archive, as well as other posts on scholarship presenting evidence for literary mimesis.) Yet Jenkins presents the presumed model of oral tradition as part of a “clear and well understood chain of evidence“!

Clearly unaware of his ignorance that the mythicist case for Jesus as an “otherworldly being” is grounded in the writings of

  • the New Testament epistles
  • and Revelation,
  • other Second Temple Jewish literature,
  • and documents such as the original form of the Ascension of Isaiah dated by mainstream scholars to the end of the first or very early second century,

Jenkins surely mystifies readers of Macleans and Carrier’s book when he writes: read more »


2016-03-05

The Polarization of Biblical Studies

by Neil Godfrey

René Salm has been posting some interesting articles on his Mythicistpapers website lately. His most recent is Brodie, McGrath, and the increasing polarization of biblical studies—Pt. 2. James McGrath has prided himself on rarely taking a cutting edge stand but always remaining steadfast in the middle of controversial issues. He calls it The Radical Middle!

I was once asked (in a job interview for a faculty position at a seminary), because I seem to like the ‘middle of the road’ position on many things, what if anything I get excited about. I thought it was a great question, and I would still answer it the same way now as I did then: I am excited about finding and maintaining the middle ground.

The middle ground is anything but where McGrath stands in relation to mythicism. René points out in his article that McGrath “presents such a good example of the polarization in biblical studies.”

Thus, what comes screaming through, more than anything else, is the paranoia of an aging, entitled, and arrogant tradition. It all stands to reason. There’s a paycheck at stake. Reputation. Legacy. Ooh…

The article touches on a number of recent developments among biblical scholars that present challenges to their traditional assumptions. He begins with Dennis MacDonald’s studies in intertextuality and mimesis and the conclusion that the gospel authors were essentially writing fiction. I have been reading not only MacDonald’s work but also studies by a number of more conservative scholars also investigating intertextuality. They fail to draw the logical conclusions that MacDonald does, but their work is still informative and yet another topic I would like to post about one day.

Other names in the article of interest: Thomas Brodie, Tom Dykstra, Markus Vinzent. Salm is of the view that “Paul” belongs firmly in the second century. Vinzent is going so far as to argue that all four canonical gospels postdate the Marcionite heresy.

Some other recent interesting articles of interest at Mythicist Papers

 


2015-09-27

New Testament in the Greek Literary Matrix

by Neil Godfrey
Dionysus -- From Wikipedia Commons
Dionysus — From Wikipedia Commons

Recently an interesting collation of observations on thematic and literary similarities between New Testament narratives and wider Greek literature was posted by commenter John MacDonald. I’ve set his points out again here (with only slight editing) for those interested. (John’s more complete comment can be read here.) Some of the parallels are actually less to do with the Biblical narrative itself than the subsequent Christian tradition — something I am looking forward to addressing in a future post (from a perspective I have not read elsewhere, by the way). Reference is made to haggadic midrash — which Jewish scholars themselves note is a feature of the Gospels — but in relation to Greek texts I think it might be more correct to speak of intertextuality and mimesis.

It’s interesting to ponder the relationship between the Bible and the Greeks.

To take even one example, the parallels between Jesus and the dying-rising Greek god born of a god and a mortal woman, Dionysus, have long been posited, either in traditional myth or in places like Euripides’ ancient play ‘The Bacchae,’ with work ranging from scholars like Bultmann and others in the 19th century, to the more recent studies of scholars like Martin Hengel, Barrie Powell, Dennis MacDonald, Robert M. Price, and even popular writers like Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy.  Parallels, for example, in the play ‘The Bacchae’ can be drawn as to general overarching themes, as well as to specific details of the New Testament Narratives.  In ‘The Jesus Mysteries,’ several striking parallels are drawn out between The New Testament and the ‘Bacchae,’ the latter being a much earlier work.  To begin with, Freke and Gandy in Jesus Mysteries write: 

According to the gospels, Jesus is an innocent and just man who, at the instigation of the Jewish high priests, is hauled before the Roman Governor Pilate and condemned to die on spurious charges.  Exactly the same mythological motif is found five centuries earlier in Euripides’ play The Bacchae, about Dionysus.  Like Jesus in Jerusalem, Dionysus is a quiet stranger with long hair and a beard who brings a new religion.  In the gospels, the Jewish high priests don’t believe in Jesus and allege that ‘His teachings are causing disaffections amongst the people.’  They plot to bring about his death.  In The Bacchae, King Pentheus is a tyrannical ruler who does not believe in Dionysus.  He berates him for bringing ‘this new disease to the land’ and sends out his men to capture the innocent godman …

read more »


2015-08-17

The Gospels: Written to Look Like (the final) Jewish Scriptures?

by Neil Godfrey

4evangelists-smThe genre of the gospels is an important question. Genre is an indication of the author’s intent. Does the author want to make us laugh at human foibles or weep over human tragedy, to escape into an entertaining world of make-believe, to be inspired and instructed by historical or biographical narratives, to mock establishment values, to understand and learn a philosophical idea? Authors choose the appropriate genre: treatise, satire, biography, history, novellas…. or their ancient equivalents.

Sometimes authors combine genres. We see this in the Book of Daniel where long apocalyptic passages suddenly break into the middle of gripping narrative adventure.

Another serious amateur researcher, Ben C. Smith, has posted a detailed argument for the gospels being composed as texts that were meant to complement the Jewish Scriptures in The Genre of the Gospels on the Biblical Criticism & History Forum. It’s an idea I myself have been toying with for some time so I can’t help but be a little biased in favour of his argument.

A common view among scholars today is that the Synoptic Gospels at least (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are a form of ancient biography. Ben Smith begins by taking on this popular notion by setting out the clear and distinctive differences between the Gospels and narratives of ancient lives:

Unlike most ancient “biographies” the Gospels are not reflective writings. They

  • are not written in the first person
  • do not self-consciously reflect upon the character of the main figure
  • do not as a rule reflect upon the kind of book they were writing or on their purposes for writing.

Ben sets out detailed illustrations from about nine ancient Lives with readers urged to take note of this: read more »


2015-06-02

When is a parallel a “real parallel”?

by Neil Godfrey

I won’t repeat the arguments of Samuel Sandmel here. Too many words. Pictures are easier to read.

Not too long ago when I was visiting Indonesia’s island of Lombok I saw the following pair of pictures in the stairway of my hotel and recognized them instantly — yet I had never seen them before.

boy-girl

What I had seen before, several times in various tourist places around Java and Bali, were the following:  read more »


2015-05-23

Does Social Memory Theory Advance Historical Jesus Studies?

by Neil Godfrey

I’d like to comment on one section of the inaugural lecture of Prof Chris Keith, Chair of the New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham. Its title is ‘Social Memory Theory and the Gospels: Assessing the First Decade.’

Keith is a co-blogger of The Jesus Blog. Both Tim and I have previously addressed facets of Keith’s views and co-publications.

Keith’s postmodernist perspective on the gospels offers a valuable critique of traditional “historical Jesus” scholarship but it also leaves untouched and builds upon a fundamental blind spot in that scholarship.

Jens Schröter
Jens Schröter

Around the 47th minute into the address Keith expresses regret that other scholars who have criticized the social memory approach have failed to address the pioneering work of Jens Schröter. No doubt Chris Keith will be gratified to see that in the interests of public religious literacy Vridar has outlined and critically engaged with a core feature of Schröter’s arguments: see the Confusing “Narrative Voice” of Gospels with “Historical Truth Claims”.

Following is a transcription of a few minutes of Keith’s talk. I have bolded sections I find of particular interest for good or ill.

It is notable that recent criticisms of social memory applications in gospel studies fail to engage his work altogether.

In very general terms Schröter proposes that every approach to the historical Jesus behind the gospels has to explain how these writings could have come into being as the earliest descriptions of this person.

Insofar as this approach grounds historical Jesus inquiry in the past as portrayed in our extant sources, it is similar to what Assmann labeled mnemohistory which also foregrounds the text in traditions as they stand before historians. Related directly to this fact, Schröter insists that one cannot neatly separate past from present, history and interpretation, due to their intertwined and mutually interdependent natures of commemorative activity.

Keith’s/Schröter’s point is that the past is lost to us and the best that the historian can do with respect to Jesus or the “Jesus tradition/s” is to attempt to understand how/why the Gospels came narrate their respective lives of Jesus.

The comparison with Jan Assmann‘s mnemohistory (history of memories) is not quite apt but Keith does say that Schröter’s approach (and by extension Keith’s, too) is “similar”. Actually a comparison with Assmann’s work raises serious questions about Keith’s approach and I’ll address those toward the end of this post.

Notice in the last sentence above that Keith refers to Schröter’s words about “commemorative activity”. read more »


2015-05-16

But WHY Does It Not Convince?

by Neil Godfrey

An unexplained or unjustified phrase that I encounter with depressing regularity in works of Biblical scholars is “so and so’s argument does not convince” or “is not persuasive” — and the various equivalents of these, of course. This blot is too often found even in what can be the most informative of academic works. Of course I don’t have a problem with someone not being persuaded by an argument but I expect from scholars an evidence or logically based rationale to justify their reaction to a colleague’s assertions, conclusions or arguments. The unfortunate guilty piece of writing that has most recently crossed my path is an aspiring scholar’s blog review of Dennis MacDonald’s The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark. This post’s criticism is not targeted at the author but at the all-too-common practice found throughout the literature of his field.

Dennis MacDonald’s controversial thesis is that the Greek epic poems of Homer, well known among both the literate and non-literate populations of the Greek speaking Hellenistic and Roman worlds, can explain many of the narrative details in the Gospel of Mark. (If you are unfamiliar with the idea and are interested in an overview I have posted details at The Gospel of Mark & Homer’s Epics on vridar.info.)

The blog review in this instance, as many other reviews have done, outlines MacDonald’s list of six criteria that he uses hopefully to establish whether a literary passage has been shaped in some way by the author’s awareness of a completely different work. (In a more recent work MacDonald has since added a seventh criterion, “ancient and Byzantine recognitions”.) So far so good, but when it comes to the details we slip in the mud.  read more »


2015-03-28

Homer in the Gospels: Recent Thoughts

by Neil Godfrey

Matthew Ferguson of the Κέλσος blog has posted an interesting discussion on Dennis MacDonald’s defence at the recent Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) conference of his thesis that a significant influence of the Homeric literature can be found in the New Testament writings, especially the Gospel of Mark and Book of Acts.

For those wondering what the status of his views currently are in the mainstream of biblical studies they will find this an interesting read. Some comments:

Not surprisingly, MacDonald’s thesis has had a number of critics, but has also received a good deal of praise. . .

Overall, the general consensus is that some of the parallels that MacDonald identifies are very strong and interesting, while others are weaker and more speculative. But, one thing that was generally agreed upon at the SBL conference is that mimesis criticism is working its way into mainstream biblical criticism. In fact, MacDonald’s mimesis criticism is likewise going to be discussed at the SBL Annual Meeting in Georgia later this year. . . .

The fact that MacDonald’s arguments will be a central part of this year’s annual SBL conference suggests to me that MacDonald’s new methods are, indeed, making headway into mainstream Biblical Studies. I am not sure whether mimesis criticism will necessarily be central to interpreting the majority of passages in the Gospels and Acts, but I do think that it is very applicable to select examples . . . .

Competing with OT influence? read more »


2014-09-13

How Ideology Creates a Historical Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

sanders-bultmannAmong biblical scholars today are those who quite rightly are concerned with the ideology and values that are implicitly exprestext the sed in what otherwise seem to be works of objective fact and analysis.

One such problematic theme that has often been expressed in publications about Christian origins is the portrayal of Christianity in terms that suggest that it originated as a superior religion to Judaism. Judaism of the early first century has too often been portrayed an imposition of painful restrictions upon its followers while Jesus is by contrast depicted as a high-minded innovator who offered spiritual and even physical liberation. E. P. Sanders (author of Jesus and Judaism and The Historical Figure of Jesus) is reputed to have been a significant pioneer in breaking down this ideology of Christian superiority:

1. E.P. Sanders contributed significantly to demolishing the explicit anti-Jewish tendencies in New Testament and the over-emphasis on the Law versus Gospel distinction.

2. E.P. Sanders downplayed historicity of the conflicts between Jesus and his opponents as presented in the Gospels.

(James Crossley, Rudolf Bultmann, E.P. Sanders, and Curious Legacies)

I applaud the intention behind such discernment. Many of us have been taught in Sunday schools and churches that Judaism was dominated by a narrow-minded legalism from which Jesus came to deliver us. There is no doubt a good measure of unhelpful stereotyping going on here. The Gospels themselves, especially those of Matthew and John, are largely to blame for this.

Professor Crossley is addressing the positives and negatives of the Bultmann legacy. The particular example he singles out to illustrate his point is coincidentally critical to his own argument — and Maurice Casey’s — for dating the Gospel of Mark to within 5 to 10 years from Jesus’ crucifixion.)

We might, in fact, turn Sanders’ suspicions of twentieth-century German scholarship on Sanders’ use of Bultmann, in this case the handling of Mark 2.23-28 and Mark 7.1-23.

Sanders argued that these have ‘extraordinarily unrealistic’ settings.

Pharisees ‘did not organize themselves into groups to spend their Sabbaths in Galilean cornfields in hope of catching someone transgressing’. Similarly, according to Sanders, it is not credible that scribes and Pharisees journeyed from Jerusalem to Galilee to inspect the disciples’ hands.

‘Surely’, he concludes, ‘stories such as these should not be read as describing actual debates between Jesus and others’ (Sanders,Jesus and Judaism, p. 265; cf. Sanders, Historical Figure of Jesus, pp. 74, 215-16; Sanders, Jewish Law, pp. 19-23, 84-89. Meier would also stand in this scholarly tradition). As might be expected to follow from this position, such stories were deemed to be church creations in response to Jewish criticisms.

(Rudolf Bultmann, E.P. Sanders, and Curious Legacies, my formatting and bolding)

I find myself agreeing with Bultmann and Sanders here. Later in the post Crossley refers to Bultmann’s well-known point that in Mark 2 the Pharisees are not questioning Jesus but his disciples — i.e. the church. This was seen as a pointer to the cornfield-sabbath controversy being an invention by the church to address criticisms it was facing over the sabbath.

Crossley is somewhat ambivalent, however. read more »


2014-05-05

Jesus and the “Great Men” View of History

by Neil Godfrey
Crossley's portrait as a Che Guevara Jesus crucified?
Crossley’s portrait as a Che Guevara Jesus crucified?

This post is an overview of chapter 4 of Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism by James Crossley and is part of the series reviewing this book.

Crossley’s stated purpose of this chapter is

to show that a dominant feature of the quest for the historical Jesus — Jesus as Great Man — works in harmony with a dominant capitalist understanding of causality, particularly the importance of a freely acting autonomous individual with little concern for material conditions as historical mover. (p. 68)

(Once again we see the ambiguity and and vagueness of definition coming through as so often in Crossley’s works: “a dominant understanding”, “Jesus as Great Man”, “working in harmony with” — these leave lots of room for many exceptions, qualifications and imprecision and even inconsistencies in hypothesized relationships.)

What troubles Crossley is that the traditional focus of historical Jesus studies has concentrated on the qualities and actions of the person of Jesus in order to explain the formation of Christianity and tended to either overlook or minimize the role of larger historical forces (sociological, economic, political) in Christianity’s emergence.

Most historical Jesus studies attempt to identify sayings and doings of Jesus the individual. They assume he personally is the decisive factor, effectively independent of other historical forces or trends, that produced the Christian religion. Crossley links this approach to what he calls “individualism” or “individualistic history”, both in this context said to mean that the historian writes as if the individual acts all powerfully and autonomously in apparent disregard for larger forces in the material world.

So far I can sympathize with Crossley’s concern. This contrast between historical Jesus studies and the sorts of historical studies in other fields (including historical biographies) was the first thing that struck me when I began to read works about the historical Jesus. To anyone who is even slightly familiar with other historical biographies it is very clear that the study of Jesus is in a class of its own.

But Crossley goes further and directly associates such an “individualism” with capitalist values. read more »


2014-01-17

Genre of Gospels, Acts and OT Primary History: INDEX

by Neil Godfrey

Genre can be a highly fluid concept. In studies of Gospels I’ve noticed that discussions of genre sometimes overlap with intertextuality. Moreover, we may conclude that an ancient narrative belongs to the genre “history”, but once we learn what “history” could mean to the ancients we quickly move into discussions about the place of fictional tales in such works. Midrash is another concept that easily intrudes into any discussion of the genre of the gospels.

By genre here I mean the general character of a work, whether it be history or biography, prose epic or novella — or at least the rough ancient equivalents of those. Questions of intertextuality (and its sister midrash) I have relegated to techniques of how certain literature was composed regardless of its genre.  Nonetheless I am sure I have succumbed to some blurring of the concept in the list chosen below.

Posts by Tim Widowfield are so indicated. All others are by me.

.

Genre of Bible’s Historical Books

.

read more »