Tag Archives: Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer on the Christ Myth Debate

Without citing any instances to support his claim, Bart Ehrman charged “mythicists” as sometimes guilty of dishonestly quote-mining Albert Schweitzer to make it sound as if Schweitzer supported the view that Jesus was not a historical person. Ehrman’s unsubstantiated allegation has been repeated by Cornelis Hoogerwerf on his blog (without any acknowledgement to Ehrman); Jona Lendering of Livius.org has reportedly alerted Jim West of Cornelis’s “observation” and Jim has in turn informed his readership of Cornelis’s “excellent post”.

The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century. (Albert Schweiter, p.394, the 2001 Fortress edition of Quest) — and ditto for the 21st century!

Here’s an excellent post . . . on the way the Jesus mythicists misrepresent Schweitzer to further their unhinged, maniacal, idiotic goals. (From The Crazy ‘Jesus Mythicists’ Lie About Schweitzer the Way Trump Lies About Everything)

If anyone knows who has quoted Schweitzer to support a claim that Jesus did not exist please do inform me either by email or in a comment below. I am not suggesting that no-one has mischievously or ignorantly misquoted Schweitzer to suggest he had doubts about the historicity of Jesus but I have yet to see who these mythicists are of whom Ehrman, Hoogerwerf and West speak. I do know that my own blog post quotations of Schweitzer have been picked up by others and recycled but I was always careful to point out that Schweitzer was no mythicist, and indeed that was a key reason I presented the quotations: the strength of their contribution to my own point was that they derived from someone who argued at length against the Christ Myth theory.

So I would like to know the identities of the “quack historians” of whom Cornelis Hoogerwerf writes:

To no surprise for those who are a little bit familiar with the contrivances of quack historians, Albert Schweitzer is getting quote mined to bolster the claims of the defenders of an “undurchführbare Hypothese” (infeasable hypothesis), as Schweitzer himself called  the hypothesis of the non-existence of Jesus (p. 564). Part of it is due to the English translation, but another part is certainly due to the fact that quotations of his work circulate without context, and moreover due to the lack of understanding of Schweitzer’s time and his place in the history of scholarship. Perhaps some light from the Netherlands, in between the German and the Anglo-Saxon world, could help to clarify the matter.

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus.

The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, and died to give His work its final consecration, never had any existence.

. . . .

Now, without context, it seems that Albert Schweitzer rejects the whole project of historical Jesus research. But nothing is further from the truth, for Schweitzer criticises the liberal scholarship that was current in the nineteenth century, which, according to Schweitzer, tried to make the historical Jesus a stooge for their modern religious predilections. That Jesus had never any existence. Schweitzer’s own historical Jesus was the eschatological Jesus, who remained strange, even offensive, to our time.

(Misquoting Albert Schweitzer, my bolding in all quotations)

What is the source of this claim? Has Cornelis Hoogerwerf really read any post, article or book in which Schweitzer has been so quoted for such a dishonest purpose? He cites none. But his wording does have remarkable similarities to the text of Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist? when he made the same charge — also without citation of supporting sources.

To lend some scholarly cachet to their view, mythicists sometimes quote a passage from one of the greatest works devoted to the study of the historical Jesus in modern times, the justly famous Quest of the Historical Jesus, written by New Testament scholar, theologian, philosopher, concert organist, physician, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize-winning Albert Schweitzer:

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus.

The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence.

. . . .

Taken out of context, these words may seem to indicate that the great Schweitzer himself did not subscribe to the existence of the historical Jesus. But nothing could be further from the truth. The myth for Schweitzer was the liberal view of Jesus so prominent in his own day, as represented in the sundry books that he incisively summarized and wittily discredited in The Quest. Schweitzer himself knew full well that Jesus actually existed; in his second edition he wrote a devastating critique of the mythicists of his own time, and toward the end of his book he showed who Jesus really was, in his own considered judgment. For Schweitzer, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated the imminent end of history as we know it. (Did Jesus Exist? p. f)

I hesitate to suggest that Ehrman’s accusations were made without substance but I have yet to find any “mythicists” quoting the above passage by Schweitzer for the intent that Ehrman and Hoogerwerf claim. Is this an entirely manufactured accusation? Is West alerting readers to Hoogerwerf’s “excellent” relaying of a baseless rumour?


Cornelis Hoogerwerf adds a second part to his post: read more »

Inviting Jim West to read Schweitzer

Baptist Pastor and Professor of Biblical Studies Jim West posted the following recently:

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 9.57.36 am

Jim is a faculty member of the Quartz Hill School of Theology that advertizes itself as

an academic institution designed to train believers for more effective ministry, both in and out of the church. QHST affirms that each believer is a priest before God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, not needing any human intermediary to reach God and competent to judge spiritual matters for him or herself. Quartz Hill School of Theology is a ministry of Quartz Hill Community Church, a very small Baptist congregation which is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

But has Jim himself really read Schweitzer? Although very much a believer in the historicity of Jesus Schweitzer wrote some interesting words about the implications of mythicism and historical methods that I suspect Jim would not like one bit. Jim certainly does not believe in emulating Schweitzer in this area.

Perhaps he has only read the first edition, from 1910, of Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. There we read the famous insight that has been repeated by many a scholar ever since, that in searching for a historical Jesus each scholar has found a Jesus in his own image:

As formerly in Renan the romantic spirit created the personality of Jesus in its own image, so at the present day the Germanic spirit is making a Jesus after its own likeness. (p. 309)

But the historic Jesus and the Germanic spirit cannot be brought together except by an act of historic violence which in the end injures both religion and history. A time will come when our theology, with its pride in its historical character, will get rid of its rationalistic bias. This bias leads it to project back into history what belongs to our own time, the eager struggle of the modern religious spirit with the Spirit of Jesus, and seek in history justification and authority for its beginning. The consequence is that it creates the historical Jesus in its own image, so that it is not the modern spirit influenced by the Spirit of Jesus, but the Jesus of Nazareth constructed by modern historical theology, that is set to work upon our race. (p. 312)

Jim West is a model of faith-based scholarship. I say this because of his ability to recognize the circularity of much that passes for research into the historical Jesus while not allowing such unstable intellectual foundations wobble his insistence that there really was a historical Jesus.

Jim is also a very unpleasant and dishonest character when he broaches the subject of mythicism and here he and Schweitzer stand poles apart.

Perhaps the reason Jim promotes disinformation about mythicist arguments and makes the effort to excise any hint of a reference to a mythicist site (see his response to being informed of inaccuracies in Casey’s book; his editing to remove a reference to a scholar’s comments on Vridar; and his churlish treatment towards one solely on grounds of suspected mythicism) is his deep-down recognition of this methodological vacuity at the heart of his faith-based scholarship.

Contrast Jim West’s language with Schweitzer admonition:

The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century. (p.394, the 2001 Fortress edition of Quest throughout)

read more »

What Do They Mean by “No Quest”?

Albert Schweitzer, 1952

Albert Schweitzer, 1952 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dazed and confused

As you no doubt recall, scholars frequently divide the quest for the historical Jesus into phases or periods. The first period, following Albert Schweitzer‘s analysis, began with Hermann Samuel Reimarus and ended with William Wrede and Schweitzer himself. Conventional wisdom holds that the quest took a breather at that point, with scholars somewhat shell-shocked by the implications of the works by Wrede, Schweitzer, and Karl Ludwig Schmidt.

This same conventional wisdom marks the beginning of the “Second Quest” (or, at the time, “New Quest”) in the early 1950s with Ernst Käsemann’s lecture, “The Problem of the Historical Jesus” (published in Essays on the New Testament). The supposed hiatus between Schweitzer and Käsemann is sometimes called the period of “No Quest.”

Miffed scholars

Recently, just out of curiosity, I was Googling “no quest”, and I found several references to indignant conservative and not-so-conservative biblical scholars. They just don’t like that term. It’s dishonest, they insist, and if it’s one thing they can’t stand, it’s dishonesty.

Are they right? And if the pause or moratorium in the first half of the 20th century is a myth, then where did the idea come from and why does it persist?

A “No Quest” period?

First of all, here’s the typical description we get from survey courses and books on the Quest. The front matter for the Fortress Press “First Complete Edition” of The Quest of the Historical Jesus contains Marcus Borg’s “An Appreciation of Albert Schweitzer,” which ends with the following paragraph:

[Schweitzer’s] claim that historical Jesus scholarship has no theological significance has been very influential, contributing to a relative lack of scholarly interest in the historical Jesus for a major portion of this [i.e., the 20th] century. His work was thus not only the highwater mark of the “old quest” for the historical Jesus, but brought the quest to a temporary close. Only in the past few decades — with the “new quest” of the 1950s and 1960s and the “third quest” of the 1980s — has substantial interest in the historical Jesus revived. (Quest, p. ix, emphasis mine)

Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz (The Historical Jesus, A Comprehensive Guide) divide the quest into five phases in which two phases comprise the First Quest. Hence for them “No Quest” is the Third Phase, which they describe as “the collapse of the quest of the historical Jesus.” (Theissen and Merz, p. 9)

“Just not true”

Next, here’s a response from an offended, “anti-no-quest” scholar. In his essay, “The Secularizing of the Historical Jesus” (downloadable PDF), Dale Allison complains about N.T. Wright’s characterization of the first half of the last century as experiencing a “moratorium” on the quest:

read more »

Making of a (Christian) Mythicist, Act 5, Scene 2 (Staying Christian With a Symbolic Jesus)

The times, they are changing

The times, they are changing (Photo credit: riacale)

Come writers and critics
who cauterize with your pen . . .
You’ve spoken too soon,
the wheel’s still in spin . . .

. . . Mythicism is compatible with Christian faith.

That is certainly the argument of Fr Thomas L. Brodie in chapter 20 of Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery.

As Brodie was becoming increasingly aware of the extent of the debt the Gospels owed to the Old Testament narratives, his faith did not waver:

In September 1972, when I was first struck by the deep similarities between the Gospels and the Old Testament, I immediately had two responses: ‘This is strange stuff that may have radical implications’; and, ‘It’s OK’. Rightly or wrongly, my sense of God’s presence at the time reassured me that whatever was happening would be alright (sic). (p. 197)

It was within two years that Brodie finally saw the way 1 Corinthians had synthesized various sources in order to “[compose] the very figure of Christ and [lay] that figure down as a foundation for others” and it was only then that the foundations of his belief-system were fully impacted.

Still it seemed that, in some way I did not understand, things would be OK. God was still God, and eventually things would work out, they would become clear. However, while I kept trying, as usual, to be faithful to the practices of the Catholic faith, I often wondered what that faith really meant. (p. 198)

Coincidentally, a Westar Fellow of the Jesus Seminar I met a few years ago acknowledged the theoretical possibility of Brodie’s conclusion here when I asked him what it might mean for Christianity if it were learned that there had been no historical Jesus. His reply as I recall it, “Well I suppose if Judaism can get by without a literal Abraham . . .”

Some time in the 1980s as Brodie was continuing to ponder what he truly believed he concluded that he “was really sure of the Abraham story, not of its history, but of its meaning.” It turned out that this belief in the meaning (as opposed to the literal history) of a biblical narrative would point the way forward to a Christian faith without a literal, historical Jesus.

Bishop John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Diocese of...

Bishop John Shelby Spong, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brodie calls upon imagination and mysticism. I am reminded of John Shelby Spong’s Liberating the Gospels. By the time I finish reading the main text I am wondering why Spong believes in Jesus at all. Then I read the epilogue only to find he speaks of being “overwhelmed” by his “God consciousness” and the “mystical presence” of God. He calls for a new way of looking at Christianity, a non-literal way of reading the Gospels. (Spong emphatically does believe there was a historical Jesus who was crucified, however.)

Albert Schweitzer, 1952

Albert Schweitzer, 1952 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am also reminded of Albert Schweitzer’s conclusion in The Quest of the Historical Jesus (pp. 401-402, my bolding):

[S]trictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.

. . . . Seen from a purely logical viewpoint, whether Jesus existed or did not exist must always remain hypothetical. . . .

. . . Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus. Hence it must not artificially increase his importance by referring all theological knowledge to him and developing a ‘christocentric’ religion: the Lord may always be a mere element in ‘religion’, but he should never be considered its foundation.

To put it differently: religion must avail itself of a metaphysic, that is, a basic view of the nature and significance of being which is entirely independent of history and of knowledge transmitted from the past . . .

Schweitzer, of course, did believe there was such a historical figure and he argued against Christ-myth theorists of his day. That’s what makes the above passage all the more significant. He seems to be approving of a view of Christianity that transcends faith in literal interpretations and historical events. (Please Stephanie F., do not come back here with your undergrad essays on some tangential argument about another and quite unrelated aspect of Schweitzer’s faith.)

By “imagination and mysticism” Brodie means read more »

Making of a Mythicist, Act 1, Scene 2

Chapter 3

While teaching a class in Trinidad during the late 1960s Thomas Brodie found himself repeating a line he had heard from an experienced Dominican teacher in Rome, Peter Dunker:

the biblical account of Abraham was a story, a powerful meaningful story, but not historical.

His students challenged him. What did he mean by this? In Trinidad, with no-one else to ask,  he was forced to rely upon his own studies in the library, to apply historical-critical methods in his need to keep ahead of his students.

His initial answer was to explain that the early chapters of Genesis, Creation to the Tower of Babel, did not reflect historical stories of real persons, but that the rest of Genesis, from Abraham on, was different and did appear to be recording the lives of real people.

But the more he studied and questioned, the harder Brodie found it to accept as historical even much of the remainder of Genesis and the primary history (Genesis to 2 Kings):

  • Did Abraham and Sarah really have a child in their nineties?
  • Could Moses and Joseph have really played such prominent roles in Egypt yet have left no trace in the Egyptian records?
  • Jericho’s walls simply fell down flat?
  • What facilities would be required for Solomon’s thousand wives and concubines?
  • Above all: Solomon built such a magnificent temple yet not a trace of it was to be found by archaeologists?

Then the archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon established that the walls of Jericho had been demolished well before 2000 BCE, centuries before the supposed Exodus and time of Joshua.

Trinidad cathedral

Trinidad cathedral (Photo credit: aka_lusi)

Around the same time Trinidad was in political and social turmoil. The Church could not remain aloof. Demonstrators occupied the Catholic Cathedral and denounced an economic system that exploited the poor.

Some called for the demonstrators to be expelled the way Jesus had expelled the money-changers from the Temple. The demonstrators said they were in the role of Jesus expelling the wicked. Saint Paul was declared to be on the side of the revolutionaries: “He who does not work, let him not eat.” But Paul was also, Brodie comments, on the side of the oppressors. The motive of his charity was nothing but an example of Christian manipulation,

to heap fire on the person who received it. The Irish priests were an extension of the British Empire. (p. 22)

Chapter 4

Yet one thing seemed bedrock secure. Jesus’ historical existence. read more »

Bruno Bauer (through Albert Schweitzer)

English: Bruno Bauer

Bruno Bauer

Here’s a little more on Bruno Bauer’s arguments on Gospel origins. (My recent post on Roland Boer’s discussion has put me on a little roll.)

It’s a shame that more of Bauer’s works are not available at reasonable cost in English. I take this as an indicator that scholarship in the English speaking world generally continues to ignore him. Presumably many rely on what others say about his works than on what they have read of Bauer for themselves. Till I can access some of his German texts here is Albert Schweitzer’s presentation. The chapter is available in full online. I’ve cherry-picked from that chapter the themes that interest me the most and that I have raised in other contexts on this blog over the years.

This post is unspeakably long but it is intended to be a collation of references — pick and choose the headers of interest. read more »

2. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Chapter 1

This second post addresses the opening pages of Ehrman’s first chapter. It continues from the last words of the first installment.

Here Doherty examines

  • Ehrman’s appeal to Schweitzer and the problems faced by both Schweitzer and Ehrman
  • The logical improbability of Ehrman’s reconstruction of an historical Jesus
  • Ehrman’s appeal to pre-Gospel sources and his failure to notice the problems that will have for his own reconstruction
  • Ehrman’s treatment of the history of mythicism and the contradiction his observations present for common claims about mythicism among mainstream scholars

*  *  *  *  *


“But as a historian I think evidence matters,” says Ehrman. Let’s see how he handles evidence, and those who interpret that evidence in a different way.


Chapter 1: An Introduction to the Mythical View of Jesus


Ehrman begins by quoting the great Albert Schweitzer. On the one hand, says Schweitzer:

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence.

On the other hand, says Ehrman,

toward the end of his book he [Schweitzer] showed who Jesus really was, in his own considered judgment. For Schweitzer, Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet who anticipated the imminent end of history as we know it.

This of course is a “judgment” dear to Ehrman’s heart, because he himself subscribes to it and has written a book advocating such a picture of Jesus. It is a mantra in New Testament scholarship these days, in agreement with Schweitzer a century ago, that immense difficulties abound in the effort to unearth the real historical man from beneath the Christ of faith. And yet scholar after scholar, from Schweitzer and before him to Ehrman and no doubt after him, can claim that they have done so, and have usually disagreed with each other on what the result is. Both Ehrman and Schweitzer can acknowledge the difficulty of getting beyond the faith literature—Ehrman and more modern scholarship have benefited from the realization that there is no “history remembered” in the Gospels, and that virtually all of it is midrashic construction out of scripture—and yet both declare certainty in their knowledge that the Jesus character (whatever he was) did indeed exist. read more »

Does anyone know Ehrman’s source for this?

Across pages 12 and 13 of Did Jesus Exist? Bart Ehrman quotes the following passage from Albert Schweitzer and claims it is sometimes quoted by mythicists to suggest (falsely) that Schweitzer himself did not accept the historicity of Jesus. I have never read any mythicist work claiming Schweitzer did not believe in Jesus’ historicity, and none that I recall quoting these words from Schweitzer. If anyone does know of any likely source for Ehrman’s claim I’d be interested to hear it.

Here are the words he says mythicists “sometimes quote”:

There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus. The Jesus of Nazareth who came forward publicly as the Messiah, who preached the ethic of the Kingdom of God, who founded the Kingdom of heaven upon earth, and died to give his work its final consecration, never had any existence. This image has not been destroyed from without, it has fallen to pieces, cleft and disintegrated by the concrete historical problems which come to the surface one after the other.

Does anyone have any idea of any mythicist publication that even hints Schweitzer did not believe in a historical Jesus?

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Bart Ehrman’s New Book: Did Steven Carr’s Prophecies Come True?

Until I can get time to do my own reading and comments on Bart Ehrman’s “new book”© I invite anyone who has not yet checked it out to visit the Freeratio discussion board and enjoy the discussion there. Bart Ehrman himself has made an appearance, though a none too auspicious one. He apparently attempted to declare Steven Carr something of a false prophet because he (Ehrman) really had discussed Doherty quite a bit in his “new book”. Unfortunately, the prophecy Carr made was that Ehrman would avoid addressing Doherty’s “top 20 silences” in Paul. Steven Carr’s prophecy came true. Ehrman did not address them if the results of my machine word-search are reliable. Ehrman also attempted to declare Carr a false prophet for predicting that the “new book” would make much of Galatians 1 where James is said to be “the brother of the Lord”. Half a point on that one. Ehrman certainly did make much of that very point in his Huffington Post article.

Earl Doherty also addresses the forum. One comment:

At this stage, one can only comment on the material that has been made available. And it isn’t looking good. The two weakest and most disreputable apologetic rejoinders seem to be offered front and center by Ehrman: the appeal to authority and the demonization of mythicists as horned antagonists with an agenda against Christianity, supported by that pivotal argument that “brother of the Lord” has to mean sibling, case closed. Those of us who tentatively anticipate from this that the book as a whole will not offer much better, and even be something of a joke and a nail in the coffin of historicism, are perhaps to be forgiven.

What actually gives me pause to be that dismissive is my natural reluctance to think that a reputable scholar like Ehrman *would* give us nothing better than that, and that all the investment by historicists in claims that mythicism has nothing to stand on and that the case for historicism is overwhelming should result in a long-awaited annihilation of mythicism which shows every sign of being a head-shaking disappointment.

I guess time will shortly tell.

Earl Doherty

That’s my assessment so far, too. read more »

Correcting some of James McGrath’s misunderstandings

Added more detail to my "advice" a the end of post: 21:11 pm -- 4 hours after original post.

I have left some corrections to Dr James McGrath’s recent post Overview of Part One of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (with Baloney Detection) on his site, and repeat them here along with a few other points. (A short response by Doherty is also found here on McGrath’s blog.) I conclude with some advice that McGrath has openly requested.

McGrath’s first point that needs several corrections is this:

3. Have the claims been verified by another source?

Neil Godfrey appeals frequently to a seemingly favorable statement by Stevan Davies, but elsewhere in the same discussion forum Davies indicates that he had not read Doherty’s book and describes it as equally nonsense viz-a-viz the dominant scholarly paradigm. And so the favorable statement is about what Davies had been told about Doherty’s stance, not about the actual articulation of it in detail in his book. While Doherty should not be blamed for what one of his supporters has done, this still serves as a cautionary reminder that quotes in favor of a fringe view sometimes are not what they initially appear to be. read more »

How a biblical scholar uses sleight of hand to argue against mythicism

McGrath has linked to my post critiquing his comments on the Christ myth proposition and managed to avoid totally the whole point of my post — and the whole point of the particular quotation from Hobsbawm in question. But that is the normal way he “responds” to such critiques.

He also seeks to imply that those who use this quotation are ignorant of Hobsbawm’s arguments and are misrepresenting them, and he does this be showing he has at last got his hands on a copy of a book in which the quote does not appear, even though I have often cited the source of the quotation on my blog.

I have regularly cited the source: From p.24 of A Contra Corriente: a Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America (2004). That is not easy to locate anymore, but the article is now available in pdf format at http://www.ncsu.edu/project/acontracorriente/spring_04/Slatta.pdf. (McGrath has asked more than once for evidence and sources (purportedly) to help him understand how nonbiblical historians work, and I have given him sources several times but he seems not to have followed them up.)

McGrath has completely sidestepped the whole point of the quotation and of my previous post, which is the importance of independent evidence for uncovering historicity of narratives.

“In no case can we infer the reality of any specific ’social bandit’ merely from the ‘myth’ that has grown up around him. In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions.”

It is instructive that McGrath originally elicited this quotation from one of his commenters by asking point blank:

Evan, Perhaps you can clarify, with reference to historians and historical methodology, how you are using the term “fact.”

Evan then responded with the quotation (and some others) along with his explanation in direct answer to McGrath’s request to clarify what he meant — with reference to historians and historical methodology — how he was using the word “fact”

Unfortunately, McGrath appears to have become derailed at the Evan’s cogent response as requested, and turned on him for “quote mining” and ripping words out of context.

But the quotation was not out of context. It explained exactly how Evan was using the term “fact”, and he did so with reference, as requested, to historians and historical methodology.

First time round McGrath dismissed Hobsbawm’s quote as a commie plot!

McGrath has had a hard time with Hobsbawm. When I first presented his words to him he responded that they were not reliable because they were part of a communist plot to re-write history.

Second, it seems that your quote from Hobsbawm indicates once again that, unless you have some sort of evidence other than texts, you are unwilling to entertain the possibility that a text bears some relationship to historical events. You (and Hobsbawm) are free to adopt this approach, of course, but might Hobsbawm’s desire to rewrite the legacy of Communism suggest that his statement has more to do with ideology than mainstream historiography?

Note also that even then McGrath misused the quotation erroneously thinking that it was arguing that one needed “evidence other than texts” to verify historical facts. I had made no such argument at all, and Hobsbawm was certainly not arguing that. Yet that is how McGrath chose to use the quote.

Now that these words have resurfaced on his own blog he has once again used sleight of hand to misuse them. Just as he earlier attempted to argue that Hobsbawm was arguing a position neither he nor I ever suggested, he now uses the quotation to argue that they say something far less than they actually do. He has a hard time with reading its last sentence: In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions.

And that is exactly what we lack in the case of the actions of Jesus. Even his existence is, by the same standards, theoretically open to question, as Albert Schweitzer himself pointed out:

[A]ll the reports about [Jesus] go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability. (Schweitzer, Quest, p.402)

And that could be why McGrath is clearly determined to get rid of this Hobsbawm quote by any trick in the book, fair or foul, he can find.

To cap off the McGrath’s misapplication of Hobsbawm’s methods, he even compares Hobsbawm’s work with biblical scholar Dale Allison’s on the historical Jesus. Allison, as I showed in a recent post, has the honesty to recognize the circularity of methods used in historical Jesus studies. Will McGrath suggest Hobsbawm’s requirement for independent evidence means that his work is also grounded in circularity? It is, of course, only by means of independent evidence that one can escape circularity.

I discussed this in my previous post about how we can know anyone existed in ancient times, and what is meant by “independent” evidence.

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Crossan’s absolute certainty in the historicity of Christ Crucified

Christ crucified from the "Pigliata"...
Image via Wikipedia

I take it absolutely for granted Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Security about the fact of the crucifixion derives not only from the unlikelihood that Christians would have invented it but also from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it, a Jewish one from 93-94 C.E. and a Roman one from the 110s or 120s C.E. (p. 372 of The Historical Jesus)

That last “but also” part of Crossan’s sentence addresses the only way we can have any certainty about the past: independent evidence, external controls.

Here Crossan goes beyond the usual subjective assertion that Christians would not have made up the story. Here he acknowledges the primary importance of independent corroboration.

This is good. It is exactly what nonbiblical historians do. They work with verifiable facts. Their task is to interpret verifiable facts and explain the known “facts” of history. (Historical Jesus scholars usually busy themselves trying to find what some facts are. Was Jesus a revolutionary or a rabbi? Did he or did he not “cleanse” the Temple? If there are no verifiable facts then they don’t do the history.)

Everything we need to know we learned as children

I have discussed this in some depth in my Historical Facts and Contrasting Methods posts. It’s a simple truism that most of us learned from our parents, read in the Bible, and that carries right through to normative history and modern day journalism — Don’t believe every word you are told. Check the facts. Test what you hear. read more »

How and Why Scholars Fail to Rebut Earl Doherty

Dunce cap in the Victorian schoolroom at the M...

Image via Wikipedia

Anyone who is familiar with Earl Doherty’s site will probably find this post superfluous.

The mysterious origin of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views of Doherty

Dr Jeffrey Gibson is on record as saying he has no intention of reading any of Doherty’s books but that did not prevent him from pulling out a critical line from Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann’s preface to a publication reissuing Goguel’s rebuttal of mythicism, and placing it in a Wikipedia article.

A “disciple” of Wells, Earl Doherty has rehashed many of the former’s [Wells’] views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject. . .

To call Doherty a “disciple of Wells” who has “rehashed” many of Wells ideas actually indicates that Hoffmann has never really read Doherty’s books at all. Maybe Hoffmann was relying on something he read by Eddy and Boyd who in The Jesus Legend very often append Doherty’s name to that of Wells when discussing the argument that Jesus was fiction. But read what Wells says about Eddy and Boyd’s confusion:

Earl Doherty belongs unequivocally in category 1 of Eddy and Boyd’s 3 [categories — category 1 includes those who think Jesus perhaps entirely fiction], and they make it easier for themselves to suggest that my ideas seem at first sight strange by repeatedly grouping me with him, even though they are in fact aware that I differ from him significantly. Doherty argues that, for Paul, the earliest witness, Jesus did not come to Earth at all, that, under the influence of the Platonic view of the universe, salvic events such as his crucifixion were believed to have taken place in a mythical spirit-world setting. I have never espoused this view, not even in my pre-1996 Jesus books, where I did deny Jesus’ historicity. (p. 328 of Cutting Jesus Down to Size by G. A. Wells)

So if Wells finds little in common between his arguments and Doherty’s, what does he say about Doherty’s work?

“In spite of our differences, Mr. Doherty has appraised my work generously, and for my part I regard his book as an important contribution…” (From Wells’ summation of a couple of give-and-take articles appearing in the British magazine “New Humanist” 1999-2000)

And again in Can We Trust the New Testament? G. A. Wells writes of Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle:

In this important book [Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle], the whole of this chapter on these second-century apologists repays careful study. But I find his conclusion too radical . . . (p.202)

Anyone who has followed Wells’ books over the years may well come to the conclusion that it is Wells who has come to rely quite heavily on Doherty in some aspects of the mythicist case — particularly the second century apologists. As for the work being “academically inferior”, again one wonders if Hoffmann ever did read the same book that . . .

Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University, Stevan Davies, read. Davies said of Doherty’s work:

But in going along with Earl I’ve learned more than by going along with anybody else whose ideas I’ve come across anywhere. . . .

Crossan, or Johnson, Allison or Sanders, can give you slightly different views of the standard view. Earl gives a completely different view. His is a new paradigm, theirs are shifts in focus within the old paradigm. From whom will you learn more? (See Crosstalk #5438 for the full quote)

— Or that Professor of Biblical Criticism with the Council for Secular Humanism’s Center for Inquiry Institute, Robert M. Price, read. Price has the strongest praise for Doherty’s books, especially his recent one in the Youtube video linked at my earlier article on Robert Price’s view.

— Or that Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, read. Avalos writes:

Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle outlines a plausible theory for a completely mythical Jesus. (See earlier post Legitimacy of questioning)

Reading Doherty and Wells: the essential difference read more »