Tag Archives: Historical Jesus

Historical Jesus Scholarship in a “Neoliberal” World

jesus-in-an-age-of-neoliberalism2This post and several ensuing ones will be about what we can learn about historical Jesus scholarship from the book Jesus In An Age of Neoliberalism: Quests, Scholarship and Ideology by Professor James Crossley.

The second half of this post addresses some background that readers should understand as they read my engagement with Crossley’s book. There I address Crossley’s personal animosity towards me and his conviction that my past treatment of his works has been grotesquely unfair.

Crossley’s main thesis is

to show how Jesus is a cultural icon in the sense that he is reconstructed by historians not simply as a figure for Galilee in the 20s and 30s but also, intentionally or not, as a figure for our ‘postmodern’ times. . . . (p. 8)

The thesis extends to arguing that the same Jesus becomes compatible with neoliberalism’s political agendas and very often subtly perpetuates “anti-Jewishness”.

[T]he emphasis could be placed on the greatest historic critic of our age, an obscure article in an evangelical journal or a rant on a blog: they all provide insight into our cultural contexts, irrespective of how good or bad they are. . . .

This book is at least as much about contemporary politics, ideology and culture as it is about Jesus, and in many ways, not least due to unfamiliar approaches in historical Jesus studies, this is almost inevitable. (pp. 8-10)

Obviously any cultural artefact provides insight into its cultural context, but when Crossley limits cultural context in his book to “postmodernism” and “neoliberalism” in their primarily political and racial-cultural manifestations I suspect he is presenting a two-dimensional perspective of scholarship. Quite often it appears his argument is another application of “parallelomania” in the sense that any scholarly interpretation that can be matched to a “neoliberal” or “postmodern” concept becomes the basis of his argument. His thesis would have been more deeply grounded had he been able to demonstrate more consistently, not just sporadically, how certain changes in views and presentations resulted from the direct interaction with political and cultural pressures.

Now I happen to agree with much of Crossley’s own political views. So in one major respect he had me onside from the beginning with Jesus In An Age of Neoliberalism, just as he did with his earlier companion book, Jesus in the Age of Terror. I found a number of aspects of his book insightful. I do think that in a number of instances he does make a sound case. Others, as I have indicated above, lacked rigour, were only superficially supported, ill-defined or simplistically conceived; and on occasion it seemed Crossley indulges in soap-box political declamations against his colleagues’ views while almost losing any solid relationship with historical Jesus studies. He appears to have assumed too much on the basis of partial evidence. Overall the book tends to read like an extended editorial opinion piece. So his preface overstates what follows when it says:

It is hoped that this book will establish the general case for the importance of the context of neoliberalism for understanding contemporary scholarship and for others to provide new case studies. This book is merely about certain examples of the impact of neoliberalism in understanding Jesus and contemporary scholarship. (pp. ix-x)

The “case studies” or “certain examples” in the book are of variable authenticity. Several names appear to have been dumped in the neoliberalism matrix with only superficial justifications that overlook evidence for alternative perspectives. Worst of all, one is left wondering if Crossley’s book is a thinly veiled swipe at scholarship that disagrees with his own (and his PhD supervisor Maurice Casey’s) problematic assumptions, methods and (even to some extent) conclusions about the historical Jesus and Christian origins. Unfortunately Crossley appears to have prepared in this book a rationale for dismissing anyone who disagrees with him on these points as “politically incorrect”.

But Crossley would protest:

I do not think that all historical Jesus scholarship is simply ‘reducible’ to an outworking of neoliberalism or simply historically wrong even if it does seem that way. I still have some sympathies with some fairly traditional modes of historical criticism and I am aware that there are strands of Jesus scholarship, and biblical scholarship, which can at least be felt threatening to power.(p. 14)

Examples of the latter are liberation theology in Latin America and works by Keith Whitelam and Nadia Abu El-Haj.

I hope to demonstrate what both the good and the not-so-good in this book tell us about contemporary Historical Jesus or Christian Origins scholarship.

In these posts (I expect they will be strung out over some weeks) I hope to point out where I think Crossley has got things spot on and where he could have got things a bit more spot on. More generally, I hope to demonstrate what both the good and the not-so-good in this book tell us about contemporary Historical Jesus or Christian Origins scholarship.

And I do invite James Crossley to notify me if at any point I misrepresent anything he has written and to explain clearly (civilly would be a bonus) exactly how I have done so.

So here we go.

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Is Oral Tradition Like the Old Telephone Game?

An early 20th century candlestick phone being ...

“Yes, Muriel, that’s exactly what he said: ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers.’”

Long distance runaround

In several of Bart Ehrman’s books on the New Testament, he likens the transmission of traditions about Jesus’ words and deeds to the old telephone game, or as our friends in the Commonwealth call it, Chinese whispers (now often considered offensive). He refers to this model in his lectures, too, telling it roughly the same way in at least three of the courses I’ve listened to. Sometimes, as in the latest text on Jesus’ divinity, How Jesus Became God (HJBG), he describes the process without naming it.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with Ehrman’s boilerplate explanation, here it is from his most recent book. I wouldn’t normally quote so much text verbatim, but I think it’s crucial for understanding Ehrman’s theory of the transmission of the Jesus tradition.

If the authors [of the gospels] were not eyewitnesses and were not from Palestine and did not even speak the same language as Jesus, where did they get their information? Here again, there is not a lot of disagreement among critical scholars. After Jesus died, his followers came to believe he was raised from the dead, and they saw it as their mission to convert people to the belief that the death and resurrection of Jesus were the death and resurrection of God’s messiah and that by believing in his death and resurrection a person could have eternal life. The early Christian “witnesses” to Jesus had to persuade people that Jesus really was the messiah from God, and to do that they had to tell stories about him. So they did. They told stories about what happened at the end of his life—the crucifixion, the empty tomb, his appearances to his followers alive afterward. They also told stories of his life before those final events—what he taught, the miracles he performed, the controversies he had with Jewish leaders, his arrest and trial, and so on. (HJBG, p. 47, emphasis mine)

Ehrman starts by presupposing an original set of eyewitness testimonies. He assumes the disciples really saw and heard Jesus and then told stories about him after his death. Note that Ehrman doesn’t necessarily believe that the resurrection stories were literally, historically true; rather, the disciples came to believe they were true.

These stories circulated. Anyone who converted to become a follower of Jesus could and did tell the stories. A convert would tell his wife; if she converted, she would tell her neighbor; if she converted, she would tell her husband; if he converted, he would tell his business partner; if he converted, he would take a business trip to another city and tell his business associate; if he converted, he would tell his wife; if she converted, she would tell her neighbor . . . and on and on. Telling stories was the only way to communicate in the days before mass communication, national media coverage, and even significant levels of literacy (at this time only about 10 percent of the population could read and write, so most communication was oral). (HJBG, p. 47, emphasis mine)

Long time waiting to feel the sound

He imagines Christianity slowly spreading orally from person to person, one on one, with people telling stories about Jesus in their own words. Still, the presumption is that the stories came from sources that were originally reliable. He writes:
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Some Thoughts on the Nature of the Evidence and the Historicity of Jesus

You have the right to remain silent

Over on The Bible and Interpretation web site, James McGrath once again takes up his jousting lance to do battle against the big, bad mythicists. He raises an interesting point:

If we were to combine a number of recent and not-so-recent proposals related to Jesus, we could depict him as a gay hermaphrodite mamzer, conceived when his mother was raped by a Roman soldier, who grew up to pursue multiple vocations as a failed messiah, a failed prophet, a magician, and/or a mediocre teacher of Stoic ethics. From the perspective of traditional Christian dogma, one imagines that for Jesus never to have existed would be slightly easier to stomach (or at least, no more difficult) than some of the claims made by those who are convinced that he was a historical figure, and propose interpretations of the historical evidence which disagree with and even undermine the traditional claims of Christian creeds and piety. (emphasis mine)

Immanuel Kant, Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant, Prussian philosopher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So here’s the question: Is a mythical Jesus more palatable than a historical reconstruction that imagines Jesus as something other than the Son of God and savior of the world? To answer that question, we might consider the difference between descriptions of an object versus the question of its existence. Emanuel Kant’s refutation of the ontological argument comes immediately to mind. Kant claimed existence is not a predicate, but is categorically different from other properties.

You may not agree with Kant, but more practical considerations come to mind. The historicity of Jesus, whether argued for or merely presumed, must precede the discussion of who or what Jesus was. It necessarily forms the foundation of the ensuing arguments. If we cannot demonstrate that Jesus probably existed, all subsequent arguments are moot. Hence, Christians may intensely dislike reconstructions of Jesus that would tend to “undermine the traditional claims of Christian creeds and piety,” but I think they would dislike even more the idea that the evidence calls into question his very existence as a historical figure.

A story problem

And so, here we are again. All roads lead back to the question of the nature of the evidence. If you will indulge me for a minute or two, I’d like to present a parable.

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A dichotomy fallacy in historical Jesus studies

Anthony Le Donne has published works arguing for a new type of historical study, one that draws upon memory theory, to be applied to the Gospels. He and a number of scholarly supporters believe this new approach can open up a more valid way of approximating the historical Jesus behind the Gospels.

historiographicalJesusIn the opening pages of his opening chapter of The Historiographical Jesus: Memory, Typology, and the Son of David (2009) Le Donne zeroes in on what he believes is a prevalent fallacy among scholars addressing historical questions in the Gospels and Acts. This is that a good number of well-known scholars have argued that an event in the Gospels-Acts that is expressed as some “typology” or fulfillment of an Old Testament passage should not be thought of as historical, or that it should at least be relegated to a status of questionable historicity. On the other hand, events written as facts and that contain no striking overlay of such Old Testament framing should, rightly, be considered historical, or at least be acknowledged as historical in the mind of the author.

Anthony Le Donne quotes Michael Goulder’s explicit expression of this principle:

Where . . . we find passages with no apparent root in symbolism, or with unimportant traces of types, we shall be justified in assuming that St. Luke was setting down a factual story. . . . This will be our first criterion: where there are no types, Acts is intended to be factual.

Where an incident can be accounted for wholly, or almost wholly, on typological grounds, we shall have to be very wary indeed of giving it weight as history. This gives us a second criterion: the thicker the types, the less likely is the passage to be factual.

I agree with Anthony Le Donne completely that scholars who argue for or against the historicity of a passage in the Gospels and Acts on such are basis are succumbing to fallacious and invalid reasoning. But I also believe that Le Donne has succumbed to an unsupportable assumption of his own and that what he proposes as the correction to this wrong argument is just as baseless.

Where Anthony Le Donne is right

It is quite reasonable to suggest that an event that has been framed or crafted in terms of Old Testament passages was originally an historical happening that was later reinterpreted by others through Old Testament prophecies.

Gosh, the emperor Hadrian used to present himself as Hercules, and the even more illustrious Alexander the Great was presented as the conquering god Dionysus. Mythical overlay of historical events and persons calls for historical explanation, not denial of historicity. 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 »

What If Jesus Were Real?

“What is the nature of the employment, Mr. Marriott?”

“I should prefer not to discuss it over the phone.”

“Can you give me some idea? Montemar Vista is quite a distance.”

“I shall be glad to pay your expenses, if we don’t agree. Are you particular about the nature of the employment?”

“Not as long as it’s legitimate.”

The voice grew icicles. “I should not have called you, if it were not.”

A Harvard boy. Nice use of the subjunctive mood. The end of my foot itched, but my bank account was still trying to crawl under a duck. I put honey into my voice and said: “Many thanks for calling me, Mr. Marriott. I’ll be there.”

Farewell, My Lovely (p. 42) — Raymond Chandler

In a recent Huffington Post article, noted “scholar, author, and blogger” (and non-Harvard boy), Joel Watts, asks: “What if [sic] Jesus Was [sic] Real?” (Note: I’m linking to Joel’s blog rather than directly to the HuffPo.)

English: A fresco from the Vardzia monastery d...

A fresco from the Vardzia monastery 
depicting Jesus Christ
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He begins:

That’s a difficult question for many to read. It could mean, possibly, this author believes Jesus was not real or at least has doubts as to the existence of a Jesus.

Since Joel did not employ the subjunctive, we may wonder whether he believes it is more likely that Jesus did exist, or whether he simply has problems with English grammar. Did he really mean to insert the indefinite article before Jesus, or is it a typo? By “difficult to read,” did he mean “hard to understand”? It is, indeed, always more difficult to comprehend prose written by an author who has a tenuous grasp of the mother tongue. For example, in broaching the subject of Jesus mythicism, he writes:

We see this almost constantly with the advent of new “ideas” such as Jesus was the King of Egypt, or Jesus was an alien, or worse — Jesus isn’t real, just a story told like other divine imaginations, to help out one person or another in achieving something of an ethical collusion, or mythicism(emphasis mine)

It is difficult to make sense of this concatenation of words, because although it looks at first like so much random lexical noise, I cannot shake the suspicion that Joel had intended to write something rather clever. As a last resort, I Googled the terms “divine imagination” and “ethical collusion,” but reached no satisfying conclusions. Of course, I am no scholar, so I’m at a disadvantage here.

Joel continues by dredging up the tired accusation that mythicists are just like creationists.

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Why Gospels Are Not “Reportage”

Some of the most sensible words I have read about the Gospels are in a 1954 lecture by Ernst Käsemann. Käsemann makes no strained attempt to “explain” how similar the Gospels are to “history” or “biography”. Rather, he works with what we all can see as plain as day: the Gospels are what some scholars have called “faith documents”: they are written to support faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of “the world”. They are written like, well, books of the Bible. Believe or die.

History is only comprehensible to us through interpretation. Mere facts are not enough.

Rationalists, for example, have sought to show that Jesus was an ordinary man like us. That’s all the facts allow us to acknowledge.

Supernaturalists, on the other hand, have sought to show that Jesus is a “divine man” who performed real miracles. The facts allow us to believe nothing less.

But what is the point of either view? If Jesus were an ordinary man like us, so what? Did not Schweitzer show that each scholar saw in that mere man a life just like his own? This observation is said to have effectively put a hold on historical Jesus research in many quarters.

And if the facts told us Jesus really did perform miracles and even rose from the dead, then in what way would he be any different from other lives embedded in other religions that also wielded supernatural powers?

No one has ever been compelled (in the true sense) to make his decision between faith and unbelief, simply because someone else has succeeded in representing Jesus convincingly as a worker of miracles. And nothing is settled about the significance of the Resurrection tidings for me personally, simply because the evidence for the empty tomb has been shown to be reliable.

The handing own of relatively probable facts does not as such provide any basis for genuinely historical communication and continuity. (Käsemann, “The Problem of the Historical Jesus” in Essays on New Testament Themes, p. 19)

And it is here where Käsemann’s insight into the nature of the Gospels makes several modern studies look embarrassingly myopic. read more »

About Justice, Love, and Peace . . . and That “Nice Guy” from Emory

Catching up

I’m still catching up with all things Vridar after having been on the road for awhile. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to answer a certain “dbg” who seemed quite unhappy with my post on scholarly consensus. I’m happy to see that Neil engaged with him and for the most part said the same things I would have said.

We still have no confirmation that Mr. dbg was in fact David B. Gowler himself. Indeed it is possible, given his habit of referring to Gowler in the third person, that the commenter is merely a fan who happens to have the same intials, and who happened to commandeer Dr. Gowler’s email address for a brief period. Neil tried to get dbg to “confess” his identity without success. So the mystery remains unsolved.

Appreciating Jesus’ message

What Are They Saying about the Historical Jesus?

What Are They Saying about the Historical Jesus?

Mr. dbg first complained that his comments in the preface to What Are They Saying about the Historical Jesus? in no way indicate a personal faith in Jesus Christ. He commented:

I’m sorry, but expressing appreciation for Jesus’ “message of justice, love, and peace” is not the same as “personal faith in Christ” (including the pre/post East[er] Jesus distinction). The same thing could be said about Gandhi, or Dr. King, or a host of other people. I think the book (Gowler’s) clearly was written from a historian’s perspective, not a faith perspective.

Yes, Gowler’s book was not written from a confessional perspective. I normally shy away from such books, since they’re entirely useless to me. However, if Mr. dbg had read more closely he would have known that I was talking about people who believe in Christ as their savior and who simultaneously endeavor to write scholarly works from an academic, historical, nonpartisan perspective.

I could just as easily have quoted from an earlier paragraph in WATSA the Historical Jesus:

If we listen to the voice of Jesus, we can still hear the prophetic message of this first-century peasant artisan who proclaimed not only a message of hope for the oppressed but also one of judgment upon an exploitative, dominant class. That prophetic voice should haunt Christians like me who live in a nation that dominates the world politically, economically, and militarily. (p. viii, emphasis mine)

read more »

The Historical Jesus and the Demise of History, 3b: How One Popular Historian Follows Jesus to Historiographical Perdition (Part 2)

jesusThis continues the previous post on Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant. Why two posts on this? Since some New Testament scholars point to Michael Grant as evidence that academics outside biblical studies employ the same methods and reach the same conclusions about the historicity of Jesus as they do, won’t hurt to address his work in some detail.

For Michael Grant, Jesus was better and greater than any other person in the history of the world. If the Gospels say he did or said something that reminds us of what other persons have said or done, Grant is always quick to expostulate that Jesus said or did it with such greater force or power that he made it sound or look unprecedented. Usually he just makes this declamation of Jesus’ superiority as if it must be a self-evident truth. At the same time he generally informs readers exactly what was in the mind and feelings of Jesus, too. Recall from my earlier post:

He felt an immovable certainty that he was the figure through whom God’s purposes were to be fulfilled. This absolute conviction of an entirely peculiar relationship with God was not unknown among Jewish religious leaders, but in Jesus it became a great deal more vigorous and violent than theirs. (Jesus, p. 77)

and

Jesus’ extreme obsessional conviction of a unique relationship with God makes any attempt to fit him into the social, institutional pattern of his time, or into its habitual concepts of thought, a dubious and daunting proposition. (Jesus, p. 78)

When in the Gospel of Luke we read of Jesus making an observation well known from rabbinical literature, that a poor woman giving her few pennies was making a greater sacrifice than any of the rich donors, Grant explains:

This story is exactly paralleled in rabbinical literature. And yet Jesus applied it more aggressively, for according to Luke, he accompanied his utterance by an attack on the Jewish scribes or doctors of the Law who ‘eat up the property of widows.’ Jesus carried his championship of the underdog beyond the bounds set by other Jews of the age. (p. 57)

Even the most banal teachings attributed to Jesus are said to be given a sharpened edge by Jesus:

Nor were Jesus’ ethical precepts for the most part original or novel, since ninety per cent of them were based upon injunctions that had already been offered by other Jewish teachers.

However, Jesus sharpened certain of these themes. (p. 25)

This is all Grant’s own imaginative fantasies being projected into the literary Jesus, of course. Gospel sayings of Jesus are quite trite so Grant attempts to rescue them by saying Jesus said or felt them “more vigorously”, “more powerfully” or “more sharply” than anyone else.

By now I think some readers will begin to understand why Grant’s biographies of ancient persons are generally for popular, more than scholarly or graduate student, consumption.

.

A New Testament scholar’s evaluation of Michael Grant’s “historical Jesus”

One New Testament scholar points out exactly what Michael Grant is doing and it is not history. It is outdated New Testament hermeneutics.

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The Historical Jesus and the Demise of History, 3a: How One Popular Historian Follows Jesus to Scholarly Perdition (Part 1)

Michael Grant

Michael Grant

Sometimes when attempting to demolish the arguments of the Christ myth theory historical Jesus scholars point to a popular biography of Jesus, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels, by a scholar situated well outside the faculties of theology or biblical studies, the classicist Michael Grant. The reason they point to Michael Grant’s book is to be able to say, “See, even a non-theologian, a secular historian, knows Jesus really existed.” The implication is that the normal methods of everyday historical inquiry (quite apart from anything theologians might bring to bear on the topic) are sufficient to “prove” that the person Jesus is a fact of history.

So this post looks at what Michael Grant himself said about the evidence, his methods and why he believed Jesus to be an historical person.

I wonder how many of these Jesus scholars have taken the time to read Grant’s book since none, as far as I am aware, has ever pointed to Grant’s own argument in that book against the Christ Myth view and his own justification for believing Jesus to have been historical. Or maybe it is because they have read it that they choose to remain quiet about Grant’s arguments.

Who was Michael Grant?

Michael Grant was a classicist specializing in the study of Roman coins who was responsible for over 70 books on historical topics.

Immensely prolific, he wrote and edited more than 70 books of nonfiction and translation, covering topics from Roman coinage and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to the Gospels. He produced general surveys of ancient Greek, Roman and Israelite history as well as biographies of giants such as Julius Caesar, Herod the Great, Cleopatra, Nero, Jesus, St. Peter and St. Paul. (Wikipedia, accessed 2nd Feb 2013)

His reputation as an historian of ancient history was mixed:

As early as the 1950s, Grant’s publishing success was somewhat controversial within the classicist community. According to The Times:

Grant’s approach to classical history was beginning to divide critics. Numismatists felt that his academic work was beyond reproach, but some academics balked at his attempt to condense a survey of Roman literature into 300 pages, and felt (in the words of one reviewer) that “even the most learned and gifted of historians should observe a speed-limit”. The academics would keep cavilling, but the public kept buying.

(Wikipedia, accessed 2nd Feb 2013)

The work of his that I remember most clearly as an undergraduate was a collection of translated readings of Roman literature. This was supplemented by many other more comprehensive readings.

The “notoriously hard and challenging task”

At the end of Grant’s book on the life of Jesus he asks how we know if anything he has written is truly historical. read more »

Passing thoughts on historical Jesus studies as sorcery

Stanislav Andreski

Stanislav Andreski

Updated — a new final two sentences were added 7th Feb. 6:30 pm Central Australian time.

If you happen to be a student, you can apply the same test to your teachers who claim that what they are teaching you rests upon incontrovertible scientific foundations [/historical methods]. See what they know about the natural sciences and mathematics [/historical methods] and their philosophical foundations. Naturally, you cannot expect them to have a specialist knowledge of these fields; but if they are completely ignorant of these things, do not take seriously grandiloquent claims of the ultra-scientific [/historical] character of their teachings.

Furthermore, do not be impressed unduly by titles or positions. Top universities can usually get the best people in the fields where there are firm criteria of achievement; but at the present stage of development of the social sciences [/biblical studies?] the process of selection resembles, as often as not, a singing competition before a deaf jury who can judge the competitors only by how wide they open their mouths. (Social Sciences as Sorcery, p. 86, my formatting)

That is from Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery, 1972. I have added to Andreski’s words the alternative text in square brackets.

This quotation reminds me of the times I have challenged New Testament scholars (in particular McGrath, but also a few others) on their knowledge of historical methods after they insist that historical Jesus scholars are doing history in the same way other historians work. Yet the McGraths have proven completely ignorant of the landmark names and key methodological and philosophical developments, even the fundamentals of document and source analysis, in the field of history, whether oral or written, as it is practiced outside biblical studies. Names like von Ranke, Carr, Elton, White, (even Hobsbawm!), leave them staring like the proverbial rabbits in the spotlight. Quote from any of the many standard works on how postgraduate history students need to analyse documents or oral reports and they can only turn to sarcasm and insult to defend themselves. In my next post on the historical Jesus and demise of history I will be exploring one case study that illustrates well the very real gulf between historical Jesus studies and what history really means for nonbiblical scholars.

There is another quote from a much older source in the same book that reminded me of some of Hoffmann‘s posts read more »

Hoffmann’s arguments for an historical Jesus: exercises in circularity and other fallacies

One never thinks to engage seriously with ticks so when Hoffmann calls his mythicist opponents “mythtics” it is clear he has no interest in taking them seriously. When he does speak of the arguments of those he has described as “ghetto-dwelling disease carrying mosquitoes/buggers” he necessarily keeps them anonymous and never cites or quotes them, but belabors the same tired old straw man points he seems to want, maybe even needs, them to be arguing. I return to this point at the end of the post.

So without a dialogue partner I post here my own thoughts and questions about his method that leads him to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth did exist as an historical person.

He writes in his post, The Historically Inconvenient Jesus (with my formatting):

Given that there is

  • (a) no reason to trust the gospels;
  • (b) no external testimony to the existence of Jesus (I’ve never thought that the so-called “pagan” reports were worth considering in detail; at most they can be considered evidence of the cult, not a founder);
  • (c) no independent Christian source that is not tainted by the missionary objectives of the cult
  • and (d) no Jewish account that has not been invented or tainted by Christian interpolators,

what is the purpose of holding out for an historical Jesus?

Actually I think his point (a) is badly expressed. I actually do believe we can and should “trust the gospels” — but only after we first analyze them to understand what, exactly, they are. I believe we can trust the Gospel of Mark as an expression of theological beliefs about Jesus because that’s exactly what it is. I can see no more reason to use it as an historical source for its narrative contents than there would be to use the Gospel of Mary for the same purpose. That means the Gospel of Mark, like the Gospel of Mary, is an excellent, trustworthy source for certain theological beliefs and the ways they were expressed among those who first knew these gospels. I know of no a priori reason to think anyone should bother to read them for kernels of historical events and persons behind their narratives. I can see lots of reasons in the Gospels to think their narratives have nothing to do with historical events.

But that’s just me (and, I think, William Wrede) so I’ll move on and for the sake of argument play the game the way Hoffmann plays it here.

As for starting with a complete absence of reliable external testimonies, Hoffmann is parting company with probably most of his peers. Looks like this position is a legacy from his own time as a “mythtick”.

So Hoffmann is beginning his “quest” for evidence of historicity without gospels, without external testimonies, and without any independent Christian source. Ex nihilo?

Hoffmann explains that the historical Jesus will emerge from “the three C’s”: conditions, context and coordinates.

Simply put, it is the three “C”s: conditions, context, and coordinates. read more »

Now an eBook: Doherty’s Rebuttal of Ehrman’s Case for the Existence of Jesus

The End of an Illusion:

How Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” Has Laid the Case for an Historical Jesus to Rest

[Kindle Edition]

This book-length rebuttal by Earl Doherty to Bart Ehrman’s much anticipated and unexpectedly disappointing case for an historical Jesus (“Did Jesus Exist?”, published March 2012) first appeared in installments from March to August 2012 on the Vridar blog (under copyright), and is now being offered in e-book form, with extensive minor revisions.

It addresses virtually every claim and argument put forward by Ehrman in his book, and demonstrates not only the faultiness and inadequacy of those arguments, but the degree to which the author has been guilty of a range of fallacy, special pleading, and clear a priori bias against the very concept of mythicism and those who promote it.

In “Did Jesus Exist?” historicism has demonstrated the bankruptcy of its case for an historical Jesus, read more »

Confusing “Narrative Voice” of Gospels with “Historical Truth Claims”. . . . Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, ch. 2 final

Jens Schröter writes what in many respects is an admirable lesson for scholars of Christian origins on how really to do history. I can only spot what I believe is one oversight in his lesson where one suddenly hears in his words echoes of apologists and fundamentalists.

This post concludes my review of chapter 2, “The Criteria of Authenticity in Jesus Research and Historiographical Method”, by Jens Schröter, in Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity. In my earlier posts I used introductory presuppositions in Schröter’s chapter as a starting point from which to detail the fundamental, culturally inherited assumptions that are never questioned by most theologians exploring Christian origins. In this post I will concentrate on the last part of Schröter’s essay in which he proposes a more orthodox method of historical analysis as a replacement for the criteria approach.

Schröter has more to say about the weaknesses of the so-called “criteria of authenticity” approach in historical Jesus studies, but most of his points overlap with what I have covered in reviews of earlier chapters of this book. He does add a couple of new criticisms but I will mention those at the end of this post (for sake of completeness) and not lose any more time getting straight to Schröter’s proposed alternative to the criteria approach. (All posts in this series are archived here.)

One gets the impression, on reading contemporary works by a number of New Testament scholars explaining the role of interpretation and imagination in the historian’s investigation of sources, that New Testament scholars generally really have been left behind in the dark as to how history has been known to work in more generally for a hundred years now. The following representatives of milestone developments in “how history works” outside Theology Departments appear to have remained unknown among most biblical scholars: read more »