Category Archives: Thomas L. Brodie


2015-03-12

Mythicism Making Christianity More Meaningful

by Neil Godfrey
Edward van der Kaaij

Edward van der Kaaij

Herman Detering posted on Facebook a link to the latest news of the Dutch pastor who has “come out” claiming that Jesus never existed. The news is an update on the fate of pastor Edward van der Kaaij who made the news a month ago in the NLTimes:

Jesus didn’t exist, but a “myth”, says banned pastor

That February NLTimes article said van der Kaaij was cointinuing to preach; I think the update alert from Herman Detering is telling us that that has changed. He is no longer able to preach.

Here are a few excerpts from the earlier February article:

“When someone reads Genesis 1 as a scientific explanation of how the world came into being, and concludes that the beginning was not about 13 billion years ago (as we know now) because the Bible states that it was about 70,000 years ago, then you do not properly understand the Bible,” explained van der Kaaij.

“The gospel is telling us a deeper truth, that goes far beyond the facts of life. That’s why I say: it did not happen like this and it is a fact that Jesus did not exist (I give a lot of proofs in my book to underline this).”

9789402206999_cover_kleinHis book is De ongemakkelijke waarheid van het christendom (=The uncomfortable truth of Christianity). That link is to a Dutch bookseller. I copy here the Google machine translation of that site’s blurb (my own bolding throughout):

Jesus is a mythical, archetypal figure in a historical context. The uncomfortable truth gives a fresh perspective on faith and solves puzzles. So is the riddle of the three years of birth of Jesus addressed. You can find the answer to the question why nothing is known about the life of Jesus from his twelfth to his thirtieth year. How come the resurrection of Lazarus was not in the newspaper? What makes Jesus greater than the greats? At first glance, this book lays the ax to the roots of the faith, but on closer inspection the faith is richer.

Returning to the NLTimes February article:

“I am a Protestant and an important aspect of our belief is that the Bible is God’s Word (although written by men) and the starting point of our belief,” said van der Kaaij to NL Times. “So it is important to explain the Bible properly.”. . .

The gospel gets more value when you read it according to what it is: a myth. Note that the word ‘myth’ does not have a negative meaning, on the contrary it is positive!read more »


2013-11-18

Making of a Mythicist, Act 4, Scene 6 (Two Key Problems with Historical Jesus Studies)

by Neil Godfrey

marginalJewBrodieContinuing the series on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, archived here.

Chapter 17

A MARGINAL JEW: RETHINKING THE HISTORICAL JESUS —

THE MONUMENTAL WORK OF JOHN P. MEIER

Thomas Brodie selects for discussion John Meier’s work, A Marginal Jew, as representative of the best work that has been published on the historical Jesus by a range of great scholars (Wright, Dunn, Levine, Freyne, Crossan, Theissen “and many others”). The five volume Marginal Jew was singled out because it is so well-known and among “the most voluminous”. To begin with, Brodie clarifies that he is not at all writing a “polemic”. That he apparently feels a need at this point in his book to stress such an obvious thing is a sad commentary on the forces he knows he is facing with the scholarly establishment. If anyone was left wondering if the mood of that establishment was softening they should be pulled up by Bart Ehrman’s recent comments:

As most of you know, I’m pretty much staying out of the mythicist debates. That is for several reasons. One is that the mythicist position is not seen as intellectually credible in my field (I’m using euphemisms here; you should see what most of my friends *actually* say about it….) . . . . and my colleagues sometimes tell me that I’m simply providing the mythicists with precisely the credibility they’re looking for even by engaging them. It’s a good point, and I take it seriously. . . . . . The other reason for staying out of the fray is that some of the mythicists are simply unpleasant human beings – mean-spirited, arrogant, ungenerous, and vicious. I just don’t enjoy having a back and forth with someone who wants to rip out my jugular. So, well, I don’t. (They also seem – to a person – to have endless time and boundless energy to argue point after point after point after point after point. I, alas, do not.)

In other words, the encounters this blog has experienced with the likes of James McGrath, Joseph Hoffmann, Larry Hurtado, Maurice Casey and a few others — encounters characterized by sarcasm and insult and avoidance in response to mythicist arguments — are apparently the norm to be expected, according to Bart Ehrman. He expresses frustration over the failure of the standard answers to answer newly engaged questioners. The answer is to despise those who are not persuaded and rather than seriously engage them in depth retreat into the authority of his ivory scholarly tower. This is not how evolutionists publicly respond to Creationist arguments in their publications that do address the serious Creationist questions. Meanwhile, Bart is effectively admitting what is clear to many of us, and that is that he is simply ignoring the mythicist counter-arguments to his claims and repeating the standard catechisms for historicity as if anything contrary or seriously challenging should be shunned as the work of intellectual lepers. Accept the arguments of the first point and don’t question the assumptions or the logic or the evidence of those answers, because the likes of Ehrman do not have time or energy to re-examine such “point after point after point” of their Conventional Wisdoms. It is interesting, too, that Ehrman uses the language of a persecution-complex, as if “mythicism” — that is said to be so marginal as to be irrelevant — is nonetheless a serious threat to the status and credibility of scholars of early Christianity. It seems that the language of persecution, with its consequent polarizing of the debates into some sort of war between good and evil, and the lurid dehumanizing of those challenging the status quo (Ehrman speaks of mythicists as “unpleasant human beings, . . . vicious . . . who want to rip out his jugular”; Hoffmann speaks of mythicists as “disease carrying mosquitoes”; etc.) has been with these scholars ever since the fourth century. But no-one can accuse Thomas Brodie of having some sort of anti-Christian agenda. Brodie in fact seeks for Christianity a deeper understanding of God. He invites Christians to courageously come to acknowledge that Jesus is something far more than any historical person could ever be: he is Truth, Reality, expressed as a literary parable or metaphor revealing great truths about God. Brodie reminds me of Albert Schweitzer’s wish for Christianity to abandon a faith based on some contingent historical event or person that would always remain open to question and to establish itself upon a deeper metaphysic. (He expressed this wish for Christianity at the conclusion of his critique of mythicist arguments of his own day.) So into the Circus to face the lions walks Brodie, pleading his innocence and freedom from polemic. read more »


2013-06-30

How Did McGrath Get Himself Inside Thomas Brodie?

by Neil Godfrey

psychological-projection-liberal-hatemongers-politics-1344032910James McGrath has posted a revealing reply to my critique of a single point in his review of Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. Ironically he appears to be unaware that his every point is illustrating the very problem I was trying to address and that is close to the core of the historical Jesus vs Christ myth controversy. (One can hardly call it a two-sided intellectual debate or exchange at this stage.)

I concluded with the message that McGrath “brings a hostile intent to every page” he reads by a mythicist.

In my critique of a single point in McGrath’s review of Brodie’s memoir I pointed out that McGrath unfortunately failed to establish his claim with any factual reference to what Brodie had written. Indeed, when one reads the pages that McGrath cited as support for his view, one finds that Brodie’s words belie McGrath’s claims. How is this possible?

McGrath explains

McGrath explains. He draws on his own personal experience and personal weaknesses and reasons that these should guide his and our reading of Brodie’s book. It’s called projection.

McGrath’s explicit reliance upon his own experience while at the same time dismissing and/or ignoring anything Brodie says to the contrary is a classic case of this all too common bit of the human condition. McGrath fails to see that his own experience is irrelevant unless he can directly relate it to the evidence Brodie states — not to “impressions” McGrath gets from putting unspecified inferences he brings together from various pages.

The point I was making in that section of my review was about the fact that Brodie drew a conclusion about whether Jesus was a historical figure even before learning how to do scholarship in the appropriate manner. I can tell you that I myself had all sorts of ideas that I thought were brilliant, publication-worthy insights as an undergraduate. Few withstood the testing to which I subjected them in my ongoing studies.

No, Brodie did not come to the conclusion that Jesus was not historical before “learning how to do scholarship”. McGrath originally said that that was his impression and now he is saying that this was “a fact” he was trying to point out. I have been discussing Brodie’s book in detail and it is clear that McGrath has nothing but his own “impression” — no data — to support what he now says is a “fact” about Brodie.

But it does not stop there. In his original review McGrath invites his readers to share in this projection. He does this by pointing to general motherhood statements that most others can relate to from their student days and invites readers to think of Brodie’s argument through this perspective. read more »


2013-01-24

What They Are Saying About The Brodie Affair

by Neil Godfrey

Another Irish newspaper, Irish Central, says it has attempted to contact Thomas Brodie since the Irish Sun article on Brodie’s removal from teaching positions but without success.

Father Levi, introduces himself as a priest of the Church of Ireland on his blog, The Way Out There. Father Levi writes

The truly odd part of this story, for me, is that apparently Fr Brodie has held these views since the ’70s but has only now chosen to make those views public.

and from there raises a number of issues. He concludes:

Those who already do not love the Church will decry any action taken against him as bullying, suppressing scholarship, denying him his right to speak freely, etc.

However, it will send message to the world that un-orthodox views are not to be tolerated within the Church, which is surely a good thing. People are already confused enough about what the Church teaches without others muddying the waters with this kind of material.

Returning to the Irish Central, this is more interesting for the comments posted than the original article:

One “peadarm” writes:

This [that Jesus did not exist] shouldn’t be a remarkable proposition – as Brodie says, much of the words and deeds of the gospels are drawn from the OT. Often word for word from the Greek of the Septuagint. And from the earlier epistles of the NT. They’re very much literary rather than oral constructs. Nor should it be particularly controversial – though realistically Brodie was brave to ‘come out’, I understand that he continues to believe in a mystical Jesus as a manifestation of God, without any need for a literal historical person matching the description in the gospels.

Then there is angelqueen, a blog “for purity and tradition”: [This blog is no longer active — link has been removed: 3rd August 2015] read more »

2013-01-23

Thomas L. Brodie: Two Core Problems with Historical Jesus Arguments

by Neil Godfrey

brodieBeyondNow seems an appropriate time to say something significant about Brodie’s arguments. I quote here sections from his now infamous book that The Irish Times reported as “caused quite a stir and some considerable upset”, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. (I don’t know. From what I hear from the likes of lots of mythicist critics, Brodie should have attempted to publish his views in a scholarly peer reviewed journal if he thought he could mount a serious argument. He would have been guaranteed a fair hearing then, wouldn’t he?)

I was expelled by my church for going public with critical questioning and giving others materials to help them do the same, so I think I understand a little of what Brodie is experiencing. It is a nice coincidence that we appear to have come to a conjunction of views on Gospel origins despite our divergent scholarly statuses.

In chapter 17 Brodie addresses the four volume work by another Catholic priest, John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew. I select here two core criticisms by Brodie that resonate with me because

  • (1) they address what is fundamentally wrong with most books on the historical Jesus;
  • and (2) they have also been basic to many of my own discussions of the Gospels as historical sources.

Brodie writes, beginning page 156 (my formatting and bolding):

Marginal Jew has two key problems. First, like many other studies, it uses an unreal compass — oral tradition.

By relying unduly on form critics . . . it assumes that the Gospels are something that they are not, namely, that they reflect oral traditions that go back to Jesus, back to about the year 30 C.E. (Marginal Jew, I. 41). read more »


The Inevitable Catches Up With Thomas L. Brodie

by Neil Godfrey

brodieBeyondI have posted a few times with reference to Dominican priest Thomas L. Brodie’s latest book, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus, which is something of an intellectual biography of how he arrived at his conclusion that Jesus did not exist. These posts are archived here — scroll to the bottom of the page to see the first one addressing his book most generally.

Now The Irish Sun has published the fallout:

A TOP priest has been forced to quit a Bible-teaching job after writing a book claiming Jesus did not exist.

Fr Tom Brodie makes the claim in Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus.

The publication sparked fury in his order and he was removed from his post at the Dominican Biblical Institute in Limerick, which he helped set up.

According to documents seen by the Irish Sun, the veteran scholar was also banned from any lecturing, teaching or writing while a probe is under way.

It is understood Fr Brodie has questioned the existence of Jesus since the Seventies but had until now been unable to make his views public.

For the full article go to http://www.thesun.ie/irishsol/homepage/news/4754775/Pulpit-Fiction.html

read more »


2012-11-13

John’s Wedding at Cana — Chronicle or Parable?

by Tim Widowfield
The Wedding at Cana (1820)

The Wedding at Cana (1820) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Gospel without Parables?

We all know the standard line: the synoptic evangelists tell us that Jesus’ ministry heavily relied on parables, while the Fourth Gospel contains none. It’s a striking conundrum. However, for a long time now I’ve been considering the possibility that John is itself entirely a parable gospel.

That is to say, each pericope may stand primarily as an allegorical story, regardless of whether it is based on historical events. The story of Jesus changing the water into wine, for example, seems to contain so many obvious references — narrative points and objects that have direct theological allusions — that resemble the parables in the other gospels.

Rudolf Bultmann in The Gospel of John: A Commentary (1971, pp. 114-121) counsels us not to overstate the significance of the water as referring to baptism, blood, or the new covenant. On the other hand, F.F. Bruce writes:

Jesus’ action was, in C. S. Lewis’s terminology, a ‘miracle of the old creation’: the Creator who, year by year, turns water into wine, so to speak, by a natural process, on this occasion speeds up the process and attains the same end. But if it is a miracle of the old creation, it is a parable of the new creation. (p. 45, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, Notes, emphasis mine)

John as “Megaparable”

If Bultmann gave us a red light, Bruce at least changed that light to amber. Earlier this year in The Power of Parable, John Dominic Crossan changed it to full-on green. He subtitles chapter 10: “The Parable Gospel according to John,” writing:

John interprets all the physical or restorative miracles of Jesus as symbolic of what God is in Jesus rather than of what God does in Jesus. Look back, for example, at John 4 and note how physical drinking in 4:7-15 and physical eating in 4:31-38 become spiritual symbols of Jesus. Or, again, do you really think that Cana was just about wine? (Kindle location 3748, bolding mine)

read more »