Category Archives: Doherty: Jesus God nor Man


2012-05-18

13. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.13

by Earl Doherty

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 3: 1 Clement (with Addendum on the Epistle of Barnabas)

San Barnaba

San Barnaba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Issue of authenticity of 1 Clement
  • Does 1 Clement know any Gospels?
  • Christ speaking out of scripture
  • Clement knows of the Passion through Isaiah 53
  • Christ’s sacrificial ‘blood’ and ‘flesh’ belong in the mythical dimension
  • Prophecy in scripture not fulfilled in history
  • Epistle of Barnabas: still lacking a written Gospel
  • Barnabas points to scripture as his source
  • New Testament math: 0 + 0 = ?
  • A progression from mythical to historical

Is 1 Clement in any way authentic?

Despite doubts going back to the Dutch Radicals of the late 19th century, Ehrman accepts the non-canonical epistle 1 Clement as authentic in regard to its ostensible purpose (a letter from the Christian community in Rome urging the settling of a dispute going on in the community in Corinth) and its traditional dating (the last decade of the first century), though its attribution to a Clement reputed to be the fourth bishop of Rome remains highly dubious.

With all of that I would agree, and have defended this degree of authenticity against a continuing radical view that the work is a much later forgery designed to encourage other Christian communities to acknowledge the hegemony of the Church of Rome. This issue need not be addressed here, except to say that I find the arguments for such a view quite unconvincing and unnecessary. (See the reasons given in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, note 169.) However, I will hereafter refer to the author as “Clement.”

Does 1 Clement know any written Gospels?

Some of those reasons will be evident in the present discussion. Ehrman makes the following admissions for 1 Clement:

The letter quotes extensively from the Greek Old Testament, and its author explicitly refers to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. But he does not mention the Gospels of the New Testament, and even though he quotes some of the sayings of Jesus, he does not indicate that they come from written texts. In fact, his quotations do not line up in their wording with any of the sayings of Jesus found in our surviving Gospels. (p. 104, DJE?)

If we agree on a reasonable dating of the 90s of the first century, or even the first decade of the second, we find here a similar situation to that of the Ignatian letters. At this period, even in Rome, there is no sign of actual written Gospels available in major Christian communities. When we see the same situation existing for Papias even later, we know that there is something wrong with the traditional view of the Gospels as historical documents all written before the first century was completed.

What does Clement know about a life of Jesus on earth? 

Despite this situation, Ehrman argues that “the author of 1 Clement, like Ignatius and then Papias, not only assumes that Jesus lived but that much of his life was well known.” The latter two writers may indeed have made such an assumption, but there is little sign that either one of them knew very much about their assumed Jesus’ life or teachings. As for 1 Clement, both of Ehrman’s claims are suspect. Here is what he offers as evidence that the author is speaking “about the historical Jesus” (I’ve altered Ehrman’s order for better efficiency in addressing them):

(1) Christ spoke words to be heeded (1 Clement 2.1).

This is first of all a misleading translation. Literally, it is “you paid attention to his words,” which eliminates the image of Christ standing before one and speaking. In any event, considering that spiritual figures such as Wisdom and the Holy Spirit are often presented as conferring advice and guidance, this statement in any form could easily apply to a spiritual figure. read more »


2012-04-08

Ehrman sacrifices Paul to launch his attack on mythicism

by Neil Godfrey
The Sacrifice of Iphigenia

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia (Photo credit: Wikipedia): Necessary for the gods to allow the Greeks to attack Troy

This is the third post in my series addressing Bart Ehrman’s rhetorical back-flips on his past writings and those of his scholarly peers in order to attack mythicism.

I quoted Ehrman in my earlier post, Ehrman explains: Doherty Could Be Right After All, insisting that Paul “was not principally dependent upon Plato”. No decent person would want to think that Ehrman was playing word games or simply being disingenuous here by specifying the name “Plato” and adding the qualifier “principally”. The context of his following sentence makes it abundantly clear that he is directing his readers to think that Paul was dependent upon Jewish traditions and scriptures in contradistinction to pagan philosophies.

Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (p. 255, Did Jesus Exist?)

But Ehrman is a well-read scholar so he knows very well that there is an abundant scholarly literature discussing the influence of ancient philosophy on the thinking of Paul. Is he turning his back on all this scholarship solely to attempt a punch at Doherty? Some of the literature addressing this that I have discussed in posts here:

Troels Engberg-Pedersen: Paul and the Stoics

Th. D. Niko Huttunen: Paul and Epictetus on Law

Abraham J. Malherbe: Paul and the Popular Philosophers read more »


2012-04-07

Ehrman says Doherty’s argument is “intriguing and worthy of reflection”

by Neil Godfrey

My own photo in British Museum of Mithraic "mystery cult" sculpture

The pity is that Bart Ehrman did not know (or perhaps he did!) the argument he was thus evaluating — his own, in fact — just happened also to be the same one Earl Doherty covered in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. For some reason psychologists no doubt can explain, when Ehrman read the same points he himself had written being elaborated upon by Doherty he saw red and declared everything to be false, not true, rubbish. But take a peak at what Ehrman himself wrote about the mystery religions and see if you can spot the difference from Doherty’s argument. How are we to explain Ehrman’s contradictory evaluations?

In his attack on the very idea that Jesus may not have been an historical person Ehrman blasted away at any suggestion by “mythicists” that the pagan mystery cults had any influence at all upon the emergence of the Christian religion:

One thing that we do know about them [i.e. the mystery cults], however, is where they were located and thus, to some extent, where they exerted significant influence. We know this from the archaeological record they have left behind. Among all our archaeological findings, there is none that suggests that pagan mystery cults exerted any influence on Aramaic-speaking rural Palestinian Judaism in the 20s and 30s of the first century. And this is the milieu out of which faith in Jesus the crucified messiah, as persecuted and then embraced by Paul, emerged. . . . (p. 256, Did Jesus Exist?, my emphasis)

The question-begging core of this assertion is even comical. Ehrman is supposedly attacking an argument that posits mystery religions in the wider Greek-speaking world influenced the shape of emerging Christianity, particularly as taught by Paul, so he protests that the mystery religions did not influence the teachings of Jesus wandering around in Galilee!

But then Ehrman becomes even less logically relevant as his desperation grows: read more »


2012-04-06

Ehrman explains: Doherty could be right after all

by Neil Godfrey

Diogenes the Cynic philosopher went around the sunlit streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man.

Bart Ehrman has expressed outrage at Earl Doherty’s suggestion that ancient philosophers had any influence at all upon the way ancient myths came to be understood in the wider culture of the day. Doherty discusses the way philosophers came to reinterpret certain types of traditional myths so as to lift them out of the primordial past and to place them into a spiritual dimension, even an upper world, and to allegorize them to represent larger cosmic forces and generic human impulses. At the same time he makes it clear that he thinks myths such as those of Heracles or of Olympian gods interacting with humans on earth were not affected, but that other myths such as those of Isis and Osiris were evidently lifted into that “spiritual dimension”. How were these myths interpreted in the mystery cults? Do we have a right to suggest that elitist philosophical thinking had any influence at all upon the wider culture of the day? Doherty’s writes:

And if that transplanting [of myths from a primordial past to a supernatural dimension] is the trend to be seen in the surviving [philosophical] writings on the subject, it is very likely that a similar process took place to some degree in the broader world of the devotee and officiant of the mysteries; it cannot be dismissed simply as an isolated elitist phenomenon. In fact, that very cosmological shift of setting can be seen in many of the Jewish intertestamental writings . . . . [Other hints and deductions which can be derived from archeological remains, such as the Mithraic monuments, can also be informative.]. . . . . 

[N]or would everyone, from philosopher to devotee-in-the-street, shift to understanding and talking about their myths in such a revised setting. The changeover in the mind of the average person may well have been imperfect, just as modern science has effected a rethinking of past literal and naïve views toward elements of the bible in the direction of the spiritual and symbolic, but in an incomplete and varied fashion across our religious culture as a whole. [p. 100, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man]

Ehrman retaliates vociferously:

Why should we assume that the mystery cults were influenced by just one of these philosophies? Or for that matter by any of them? . . . .

I hardly need to emphasize again that the early followers of Jesus [Christians] were not elite philosophers. They were by and large common people. Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (pp. 254 – 255, Did Jesus Exist?)

I have substituted Ehrman’s ambiguous yet question-begging “followers of Jesus” for “Christians” in the above quote so it can be reasonably dealt with in a logical manner. Here Ehrman can scarcely be any more dogmatic. There can be no doubt that here he is leading his readers into thinking that ancient philosophy had no impact on Paul nor even on any of the ordinary folk who became the earliest Christian converts. Paul’s world view was Jewish, so he is stressing. His theology was informed by the Jewish tradition and his meditations on the Jewish scriptures alone. Ehrman is laying out his point in stark contrast to anything else he leads the readers to think Doherty is arguing: Paul and the early Christians were dependent upon the Jewish religion and scriptures and NOT pagan philosophies or mystery cults.

But wait!

Ehrman answers his own rhetorical question

Before Ehrman wrote this book attacking mythicism he wrote other stuff that sounds for all the world as if he was agreeing with the very possibility Doherty was suggesting — that the philosophical ideas of the elite probably did indeed trickle down in whatever bastardized form to the wider community! read more »


2012-04-04

The Ehrman Debacle and Our “Post-Truth” World

by Tim Widowfield

Alternate history, alternate reality

aChrist before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy,...

"What is Truth?" -- Christ before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy, 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)s

Several years ago, I was listening to the Thom Hartmann Program, a liberal talk radio show that runs in the United States. Naturally, I was listening to a podcast, since here in the Midwest only conservative talk radio is permitted on the public airwaves. At any rate, it was before the last presidential election, and Thom was musing about candidates and their public image. He said Democrats needed to be careful not to do something silly like Clinton did — namely, getting a haircut on the tarmac aboard Air Force One, delaying air traffic around the country until he was ready to go.

Hartmann’s heart was in the right place. Dee Dee Myers recalls that the high-priced haircut that stopped traffic was a blow to Clinton’s image. The story, which dominated the news cycle for at least three days, “became a metaphor for a populist president who had gotten drunk with the perks of his own power and was sort of not sensitive to what people wanted.”

Except the story isn’t true. Oh, he did get a haircut on Air Force One, but it didn’t stop traffic. Somebody had to call Thom over the commercial break and remind him. Of course, Thom remembered then that the story was false, but here’s the power of perception in a post-truth world: Reality has become nothing but a shared media experience, and whoever controls that media creates reality.

Media Truth: Bart Ehrman has disproved mythicism

Here in the U.S., there’s a cottage industry that employs a handful authors dedicated to debunking the lies, half-truths, and misrepresentations spewed out by hate radio hosts and right-wing media pundits. In the vacant space created by a delinquent press (sometimes indifferent, often complicit), these authors plug away and dutifully point out each error in an effort to set the record straight.

But it doesn’t do any good. By that I mean the conventional narrative doesn’t change. The record never gets set straight. Whoever tells the story first and loudest gets first dibs on constructing reality. It helps, of course, if the new bit of information confirms peoples’ biases. It’s even better if the details are titillating and salacious.

This is why so many people, even educated people who should know better, think that climate change is a hoax, that Gore said he “invented the Internet,” or that Obama is an atheist-Muslim-Marxist. They’re plugged into media outlets that tell them what they want to hear, and even if they should accidentally flip the channel, mainstream media is too busy telling stories about murders, mayhem, and missing persons to do its job.

Similarly, Dr. Richard Carrier, Acharya S, Earl Doherty, and my buddy Neil have been diligently cataloging the errors in Bart’s Myth-bashing opus. I’m glad. We need to try to set the record straight. However, I don’t expect it to do much good — at least in the popular media — and certainly not within the guild. We won’t be able to change the media narrative that Dr. Ehrman has “dispelled the myth of mythicism.read more »


2012-04-03

Did Bart Ehrman Not Even Read the Cover of Earl Doherty’s Book?

by Neil Godfrey

In my previous posts on Bart Ehrman’s assertions about the argument of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, I think I have uncovered enough evidence to demonstrate that Ehrman at best only very patchily skimmed a few pages of the book. Was he perhaps merely attempting to grasp directions from some of Doherty’s critics rather than reading the book for himself? He has made a complete fool of himself, or worse, by building a recurring criticism upon a blatant misquotation from the book and accusing Doherty of arguing the very opposite of what he in fact writes.

I return here to Ehrman’s opening words about Doherty’s book. It looks like Ehrman never even bothered to read its cover!

He writes:

[Doherty's] now-classic statement is The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? This has recently been expanded in a second edition, published not as a revision (which it is) but rather as its own book, Jesus: Neither God nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Christ.

This is only a tiny thing, but it is a curiosity.

The cover of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man twice says it IS indeed published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle.

The front cover says:

NEW – REVISED – EXPANDED

and on the same cover beneath those words we read:

First Published As THE JESUS PUZZLE

Turn now to the verso of the title page where one normally reads the publication data:

A revised and expanded version of The Jesus Puzzle

The cataloguing in publication information says the book is published as a

New edition, Revised and Expanded, of The Jesus Puzzle.

It tells us a third time:

Originally publ. under the title: The Jesus puzzle.

So why does our good doctor and reviewer say of the book that it was not published as a revision of The Jesus Puzzle even though the cover and title page verso inform us five times that it is such a revision?

Why did he even think to make such a point that is clearly wrong? read more »


2012-04-02

Ehrman’s Most Bizarre Criticism Of All Against Doherty

by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman’s attempt to deal with Earl Doherty’s book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, is “filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a [book three times the size] to deal with all the problems.”

I have quoted Ehrman’s own words to describe Doherty’s book and turned them against Ehrman himself. In the paragraph following that description Ehrman flagrantly misquotes Doherty to falsely accuse him of claiming that there was only a single world-view among the ancients. I addressed this in detail in my first post of this series.

From this point on Ehrman continues to demonstrate that he has simply failed to read much of the book he claims to be reviewing. As part of his effort to dismiss Doherty’s argument that Paul’s Christ had no earthly context, Ehrman accuses Doherty of asserting, without any evidence, that the mystery religions at the time of early Christianity “were at heart Platonic”:

What evidence does Doherty cite to show that mystery religions were at heart Platonic? Precisely none. (p. 192, Did Jesus Exist?)

But he [Doherty] then asserts that they [the mystery cults] thought like the later Platonist Plutarch. . . . 

Quite oblivious to everything Doherty wrote on the matter, Ehrman attempts to refute what he (wrongly) says is Doherty’s argument by explaining the very things Doherty himself points out in his book. That is, Doherty has argued that the beliefs of the mystery cults were for most part very probably unlike the philosophical views of the day and then offers the reasons for this judgement. Ehrman bizarrely says Doherty argues the very opposite of what he does, that the mystery cults thought like the philosophers of the day. He then proceeds to explain how it really was, and then presents Doherty’s argument as if it were his own and as if he is explaining what Doherty should have written! But what he thinks is his own argument against Doherty is exactly what Doherty did write! This is most bizarre!

Here are Ehrman’s “corrective” statements he obviously thinks (wrongly) that Doherty “should” have understood:

And it is highly unlikely that adherents of the mystery cults (even if we could lump them all together) thought like one of the greatest intellectuals of their day (Plutarch). Very rarely do common people think about the world the way upper-class, highly educated, elite philosophers do. . . .

In the case of someone like Plutarch there is, in fact, convincing counterevidence. Philosophers like Plutarch commonly took on the task of explaining away popular beliefs by allegorizing them, to show that despite what average people naively believed, for example, about the gods and the myths told about them, these tales held deeper philosophical truths. The entire enterprise of philosophical reflection on ancient mythology was rooted precisely in the widely accepted fact that common people did not look at the world, or its myths, in the same way the philosophers did. Elite philosophers tried to show that the myths accepted by others were emblematic of deeper spiritual truths. (p. 192)

One can only read this and shake one’s head in dismay. Doherty himself has written just that! Where was Ehrman’s mind when he was turning the pages that contained the following paragraphs? read more »


2012-03-31

Devious Doherty or Erring Ehrman?

by Neil Godfrey

One of the staunchest defenders of a mythicist view of Christ, Earl Doherty, maintains that the apostle Paul thinks that Jesus was crucified, not here on earth by the Romans, but in the spiritual realm by demonic powers. In advancing this thesis, Doherty places him self in an ironic position that characterizes many of his mythicist colleagues. He quotes professional scholars at length when their views prove useful for developing aspects of his argument, but he fails to point out that not a single one of these scholars agrees with his overarching thesis. (Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist? my emphasis)

Can Earl Doherty ever have stooped so low! Quoting scholars when it suits but not informing his readers that they were not mythicists? What deviousness! This has to be outright deceit, of course, since if he really believed they were mythicist he would have shouted that out in bold caps.

Given the track record I have addressed in my previous posts I am sure we know just how much evidence we can dig up against Doherty to support Ehrman’s accusation. Ehrman also implies that Doherty only refers to scholars when “their views prove useful” to developing his argument. How sneaky!

Let’s try to trace just how dishonest this man is. Let’s begin with the Preface to his book, Jesus, Neither God Nor Man.

He fails to point out?

On the very opening page of his book, in his Preface, Earl Doherty refers to the Christ Myth as “such a radical idea” that when it was referenced on a popular TV show he believes very few in audiences would have even recognized what was expressed. He refers to it on that same page as “a fringe idea”. On that page, the first page of his book, he sets his thesis in opposition to “traditional academia” and “mainstream critical scholarship”. The bulk of those who currently embrace the idea for now are “amateurs” whom he defines as “those who undertake private study outside an official educational setting.”

The same theme dominates right through to the last page of that Preface where Doherty acknowledges his debt to traditional New Testament scholarship. He describes his debt to this as “immense” even though he is obviously presenting a thesis at radical odds with the assumptions and beliefs of that scholarship. This theme of his view being in stark opposition to traditional mainstream scholarship is sustained throughout the book. Would anyone who picks up JNGM really suspect for a moment that Doherty is supported by a significant number of mainstream New Testament scholars?

But let’s get to the nitty gritty. Does Doherty at any point mislead his readers into thinking that mainstream scholars he quotes might somehow support his mythicist argument? read more »


2012-03-30

Ehrman suppresses the facts while falsely accusing Doherty: Part 2

by Neil Godfrey

This post continues directly on from Ehrman Hides the Facts About Doherty’s Argument, Part 1. Here I show that Ehrman has suppressed the facts about what his own peers think in order to falsely accuse Doherty of arguing without scholarly merit.

First, the passage in question, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,

15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men,

16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost. [NKJV]

Ehrman’s argument: “simply not true”

I concluded my last post with this paragraph:

But it gets worse. For Ehrman to sustain his accusation that mythicists such as Doherty and Wells are “driven by convenience” and “simply claim” these verses to be un-Pauline, he must hide from his readership what his own scholarly peers do in fact say about the authenticity of these same verses. He will therefore inform the readers only of his own idiosyncratic (I would be surprised if his argument as presented in Did Jesus Exist? has ever passed peer-review) reasons for believing the passages to be authentic.

Ehrman begins his case against interpolation by singling out the last words of verse 16:

It is this last sentence [i.e. "wrath has come upon them to the uttermost"] that has caused interpreters problems. What could Paul mean that the wrath of God has finally come upon the Jews (or Judeans)? That would seem to make sense if Paul were writing in the years after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, that is, after 70 CE. But it seems to make less sense when this letter was actually written, around 49 CE. For that reason a number of scholars have argued that this entire passage has been inserted into 1 Thessalonians and that Paul therefore did not write it. In this view some Christian scribe, copying the letter after the destruction of Jerusalem, added it. (my emphasis)

But Ehrman is sweeping the scholarly discussion under the carpet when he indicates to his readers that it is only “this last sentence” that has “caused interpreters problems”. That is, again to use Ehrman’s own words, “simply not true.” read more »


Ehrman hides the facts about Doherty’s argument: Part 1

by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman accuses Earl Doherty of being “driven by convenience” and “simply claiming” that a Bible verse that contradicts his thesis “was not actually written by [Paul]“.

At the same time Ehrman admits that the particular verse is disputed by many scholars, but then in his ensuing discussion he hides (sic!) from his lay readers the reasons they dispute it.  Ehrman even conveys the false impression that all of the scholarly dispute is merely over a few words tagged on at the end of the verse; but surely knows that this is (to use his own damning words from another context) “simply not true”. I find it impossible to imagine that his simplistic and misleading discussion of this text would ever pass peer review were it submitted to a scholarly journal. No matter. He obviously thinks it is all his lay readers need to know; and that information that is only partial, or that is suppressed entirely, will serve more effectively to undermine Doherty’s credibility.

Ehrman’s accusation

Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians — which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.)  (p.  my emphasis)

Notice Ehrman is unambiguously “informing” his readers that it is entirely Doherty’s own self-serving opinion that “refuses” to allow a particular verse to be considered original to Paul. The only reason we are led to believe, and this is on the authority of the highly reputable popular author Bart Ehrman, that Doherty rejects the originality of this verse is “simply” because it “inconveniently” refutes his argument. Doherty “simply claims” a verse is a forgery because, Ehrman assures us, he finds it contradicts his argument.

This is not an isolated accusation. Earlier in his book Ehrman similarly claimed:

One way that some mythicists have gotten around the problem that this, our earliest Christian source, refers to the historical Jesus in several places is by claiming that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul’s writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes who wanted Paul’s readers to think that he referred to the historical Jesus. This approach to Paul can be thought of as historical reconstruction based on the principle of convenience. If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one’s views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you’re right.

This is a mischievous falsehood. Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells are NOT the ones who claim that certain verses are interpolations in order to “get around” contradictory evidence to establish their case. The arguments for the two verses they cite (I don’t know that there are any more than two) being interpolations are long-standing and well established by Ehrman’s own scholarly peers.

First I will quote what Doherty himself says with respect to his reasons for rejecting the authenticity of this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

In my next post I will return to Bart Ehrman’s own attempt to argue for this verse’s genuineness and demonstrate how Ehrman misleads his less well-informed readers about the real reasons many of his own scholarly peers believe the verse was indeed an interpolation. read more »


2012-03-29

Earl Doherty’s comments on my posts about Ehrman’s treatment of his book

by Neil Godfrey

I am posting here Earl Doherty’s comment — originally made on FRDB — about my recent posts on Bart Ehrman’s treatment of his book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man.

————————-

I hope that all of you are following the postings on Vridar by Neil Godfrey relating to Bart Ehrman’s presentation of statements and arguments in my book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. . . . What Neil has focused on in this posting (“Bart Ehrman’s false or careless assertions and quotations concerning Earl Doherty“), the first of several he plans on the same problem in Did Jesus Exist [I now notice he has just posted a second instalment], is Ehrman’s handling of my discussion of the ancients’ views of the universe and how one in particular influenced early Christian cosmology and their placement of their Christ Jesus’ sacrifice in the heavenly world. Here, as quoted on Vridar, is what Ehrman says:

Ehrman continues to repeat and underscore this aspersion — that Doherty is so simplistic as to speak of a single view of the world among ancients:

To begin with, how can he claim to have uncovered “the” view of the world held by “the” ancients, a view that involved an upper world where the true reality resides and this lower world, which is a mere reflection of it? How, in fact, can we talk about “the” view of the world in antiquity? Ancient views of the world were extremely complex and varied

Neil points out that this is a direct misrepresentation of what I say in my book. Ehrman is discussing my page 97, which actually says (the square-bracket insertions are mine just made):

To understand that setting, we need to look at the ancients’ views [VIEWS, plural] of the universe and the various [i.e., MULTIPLE] concepts of myth among both Jews and pagans, including the features of the Hellenistic salvation cults known as “mysteries.”

But Ehrman has not simply ‘misread’ one word, the surrounding context, and in many other places in my book, contains further material like this:

From the documentary record both Jewish and pagan (and there is more to survey), it is clear that much variation existed in the concept of the layered heavens and what went on in them, just as there were many variations in the nature of the savior and how he conferred salvation.

Neil and some commenters on his posting point out that Ehrman’s language (see above) also implies that this particular “view” of the universe (the Platonic one) I present is somehow my own laughable invention, whereas any undergraduate student of ancient thinking knows full well that this was a widespread (and even pre-Plato) type of cosmology about the nature of the universe. Unfortunately, much of Ehrman’s readership will not even be undergrads.

In the same posting Neil quotes this blatant non-sequitur on Ehrman’s part:

This view of things was especially true, Doherty avers, in the mystery cults, which Doherty claims provided “the predominant form of popular religion in this period.” (This latter claim, by the way, is simply not true. Most religious pagans were not devotees of mystery cults.)

Something that is a “predominant form” is not necessarily indulged in by the majority. Ehrman’s criticism here is based on this fallacy. I have not said that a majority of pagans were initiates into the cults. Besides, the presence of the word “popular” gives a different cast to things. If I say that the predominant form of popular music over the last half-century has been “rock and roll” that does not say that a majority of the population of all ages and ethnic groups around the world have been enthusiastic about rock and roll. Ehrman exhibits serious logical deficiencies here.

On the “view”/”views” matter, Neil suggests that Ehrman may have been “more careless than dishonest,” while one commenter puts it “we must first assume carelessness and not malice”. (Dishonorable or incompetent, take your pick.) But I think this is bending over backwards unjustifiably. It is admittedly hard to believe that Ehrman could have deliberately misrepresented my words, consciously falsifying my arguments in order to put me in the worst possible light. But what is the alternative “carelessness” due to? read more »


2012-02-24

Appendix to my “concluding response” — that ca.4 letter word MIDRASH

by Neil Godfrey

This is tiresome, but I forgot to mention one more tiresome detail in Dr McGrath’s “review” (isn’t a review supposed to inform readers of what the book being discussed actually says??) –

McGrath compares Doherty’s use of the word “midrashic” with how a related word is apparently used by Barbara Thiering and John Shelby Spong. McGrath even links Thiering and Spong together as if they have a similar approach to New Testament studies.

McGrath has the ignorance, the gallstones, the ignorance (one is not allowed to use a word that relates to “truth-telling” or “lying”) to compare Doherty’s — and now Spong’s too! — use of the word “midrash” to that of Barbara Thiering’s use of another word, pesher.

It’s a pity Dr James McGrath was not sitting beside me when I attended a session where John Shelby Spong was the main speaker and at which he was asked about the works of Barbara Thiering. He would have learned that any similarity in thought between the two scholars could only come from the most creative cartoonists Hollywood has produced.

It’s also a pity that Dr James McGrath has not had the time or interest to familiarize himself with any of Spong’s scholarly background or publications. If he ever does get the chance to do so he will learn that Spong is Michael Goulder’s successor of sorts, and is advancing Goulder’s arguments, with refinements more or less. (Has Dr McGrath even ever heard of Michael Goulder? One only has limited free time when one’s teaching curriculum requires so many hours of watching Dr Who! and contemplating each program’s “intersects” with religion).

But back to this use of the word “midrashic” that McGrath takes such strong objection to.

I have said enough and do not want to repeat myself. I simply invite Dr McGrath (Is he sticking his fingers in his ears right now and shouting “La La La, I can’t hear you!”?) to review what Jewish scholars of midrashic literature themselves say about the Gospels containing or even being “midrash”, not to mention his very own New Testament scholarly peers! –

Midrash and the Gospels 1: Some definitions and explanations

Midrash and the Gospels 2: debates in the scholarly sphere

Midrash and Gospels 3: What some Jewish scholars say (and continuing ‘Midrash Tales of the Messiah’)

Messiahs, Midrash and Mythemes — more comparisons with the Gospels

McGrath actually wrote the following bollocks: read more »


Concluding my response to Dr McGrath’s “review” (sic) of chapter 10 part 2

by Neil Godfrey

Dr McGrath’s “reviews” (sic) of Earl Doherty’s book are what you get when a reviewer has made up his mind beforehand that he is going to read nothing but nonsense — except for any tidbits that happen to be repeats of mainstream scholarly views anyway — written by an ignorant charlatan whom he (the reviewer) is convinced has never engaged with the scholarship, is poorly read and only ever uses scholarly works tendentiously and dishonestly.

Approaching a book with this conviction will make it impossible to read the book on its own terms. One will be expecting to find rubbish and this expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will lead the reviewer to jump scornfully on sentences here and half paragraphs there and scoff before he has even taken the time to grasp what anyone else without “attitude” would read.

I know. I have done the same myself.

When I was beginning to leave a religious cult I picked up a book on how cults psychologically manipulate their members. I was still sensitive enough to be offended by such a suggestion and I read the book with hostile intent and wrote all sorts of objections in the margin. Years later I picked up the book again, with my pride having mellowed, and shook my head in amazement at how my notes betrayed a mind that was completely shut to what the author was really saying. My notes were testimony to my closed mind, not to any inadequacies in the book at all.

I list here McGrath’s objections to Doherty’s work with quotations from Doherty’s book that belie anything McGrath thinks he sees in it.

A year ago I posted the Ascension of Isaiah and highlighted the passages that demonstrate the thrust of Earl Doherty’s argument that this text is an example of the sorts of beliefs we find in Paul’s letters about Christ not being crucified on earth. Interested readers of this post will find that earlier post of some benefit in understanding the argument that follows. It is a complex subject and it is good to have some clear overview of the basics before one takes on the opposing arguments.

One man’s picture-frame is another man’s scaffold

McGrath begins by misinforming readers that the Ascension of Isaiah is “central” to Doherty’s argument that the crucifixion of Jesus took place in a dimension beyond earth and history.

Also central to Doherty’s argument is a work known as The Ascension of Isaiah . . . .

This brings us to the crux of Doherty’s views. Doherty’s entire argument for mythicism can be viewed as an attempt to regard some parts of the Ascension of Isaiah as both the key to understanding the New Testament, and the fountainhead of what eventually became Christianity.

Wow, now that makes the Ascension of Isaiah really critical. Surely sounds like if the AoI goes so does Doherty’s entire argument.

But read what Doherty’ himself says about the place of the Ascension of Isaiah for his argument and wonder how McGrath could so fundamentally misrepresent his use of this text. read more »


2012-02-23

Dr McGrath: Doherty was right after all about the date for the Ascension of Isaiah

by Neil Godfrey

In my previous post that began to address Dr McGrath’s “review” of a small section of Earl Doherty’s 10th chapter. I focussed on Dr McGrath’s opening assertion that the Ascension of Isaiah in its Christian version dates from the latter half of the second century and criticizing Doherty for failing to address this “conclusion” or justify his own disagreement with it:

The Christian version is dated by scholars to the second half of the second century at the earliest, and Doherty does not even address that conclusion or show awareness of it, much less present anything that might justify disagreeing with it.

It’s pretty hard to show any awareness of a date that is fabricated entirely in Dr McGrath’s imagination.

McGrath’s claim about the dating of the Christian version by scholars is misleading. I quoted a raft of experts and commentators on the AoI in my previous post, mostly from sources Dr McGrath himself linked, demonstrating that they all place the various Christian parts of the AoI much earlier and it is only the final compilation of these that was accomplished in the later second century. McGrath’s date for the assembling of the parts is irrelevant to a discussion that is about the thought-world of parts that most scholars are agreed dates between the late first and early second centuries.

I asked McGrath through a mediator (since McGrath says he won’t address me) for the source for his assertion that the AoI should be dated to the late second century. Dr McGrath is not a fool and he knew he had overstated or mis-stated his case (perhaps as a result of my previous response to his “review”?) so he opted to answer another question: to cite an article in which scholars date the Christian portions of the AoI to the second century (not late in that century). Dr McGrath has explained that his source was an article, from 1990, by Robert G. Hall. In that article Hall concludes that the AoI dates from the end of the first century or beginning of the second, thus flatly contradicting Dr McGrath’s initial claim in his “review” of Doherty’s argument for a late second century date. This is surely a tacit admission that Doherty’s date for the AoI is consistent after all with scholarly views:

We have also suggested that the Ascension of Isaiah belongs among writings which reflect prophetic conflict and which date from the end of the first century or the beginning of the second. (Hall, Robert G.. (1990). The Ascension of Isaiah: Community Situation, Date, and Place in Early Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature. 109 (2), p.306. — my emphasis)

Here is another paragraph from the same article explaining other scholar’s views of the date of the AoI: read more »