Tag Archives: James McGrath

Under the Grip of Christianity: New Testament Scholars and the Myth of Transparent Fiction

Engineer's Bench Vise

Engineer’s Bench Vise Source: Wikipedia

Under the Grip

I just noticed over on the Cakemix that Dr. McGrath is once again comparing Jesus mythicism to creationism. He writes:

Mythicism says: universities are so much under the grip of Christianity that mythicism cannot get a fair hearing.

As you know, the good doctor finds this idea laughable. Implicit in his short post is the notion that evolutionary biologists and biblical scholars are serious, trustworthy, trained professionals. Thus, to insist that NT scholars unfairly reject mythicism is to engage in conspiracy mongering. One of his fans (a guy named Jim) chimes in:

Yeah, great point. That’s why I disagree with the current value of the speed of light. It was arrived at by physicists, who are naturally biased because they had … well … advanced degrees in physics. The speed of light should have been determined by a group who is not biased towards physics, like say zoologists. :) Isn’t it weird how science departments are full of faculty that have science backgrounds, and departments focusing on Christian history attract an interest group like people with Christian backgrounds. … (just being a bit of a jerk here :) )

But Dr. Jimmy tells Mr. Jim:

I don’t think you’re being a jerk. I think such snarcasm is called for.

When considering NT scholars, McGrath, of course, isn’t talking about those teaching at universities with a confessional bias.

There certainly are scholars at religiously-affiliated institutions, and I could certainly understand atheists viewing such figures with suspicion and ignoring what they have to say. But people like Ehrman and myself who teach at secular universities do not need to be placed in the same category, do we? And as for having Christian backgrounds, how many professional scientists are from Christian backgrounds, and how many are at least nominally Christians? I am confident that, if such a background does not invalidate the conclusions of mainstream biology, neither does it invalidate the conclusions of mainstream history.

He’s got one thing right: I would never put Ehrman and McGrath in the same category.
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Comparing Paul’s Epistles to Augustine’s Letters

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...

Saint Augustine of Hippo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cakemix explodes

Reacting to Dr. Richard Carrier’s recent article over at The Bible and Interpretation website, the beloved Doctor of Whoville, James McGrath has offered up yet another dog’s breakfast of red herrings and dead horses. (How’s that for a mixed-metaphor gumbo?)

Carrier will likely respond fully to McGrath’s post, especially the headache-inducing section in which James refers to Carrier’s opening paragraph. McGrath writes:

[H]e seems to think that he has made a profound point in a discussion about 1 Corinthians 15 when he observes that it does not contain the phrase “in Christ before me.” That phrase is one that Paul uses in Romans 16:7. But is Carrier really going to suggest that Paul was “in Christ” while he was persecuting the church, and that the gist of 1 Corinthians 15′s list is not that there were others who were what we would call “Christians” before he was? Indeed, that is the overall impression one gets from things that Paul writes in many places. And Carrier doesn’t seem to really want to dispute that. So what is the point of beginning the piece in that way? (emphasis mine)

I will remind you that McGrath is a real PhD who teaches real students at a real university. He not only completely misunderstands what Carrier has written, but betrays his own proclivity toward “reading with hostile intent.” He does not read in order to learn, but rather to find — and if necessary, manufacture — elements to contradict.

Carrier’s point is simple. In his own words:

[The] consensus [of Jesus' historicity] is based on false beliefs and assumptions, a lot of them inherited unknowingly from past Christian faith assumptions in reading or discussing the evidence, which even secular scholars failed to check before simply repeating them as certainly the truth.

Getting it wrong again

McGrath misrepresented Carrier’s story of an NT scholar (whom we recognize as Mark Goodacre) who actually thought the text of 1 Cor. 15:1-8 says that Paul received his gospel “from those who were in Christ before him.“ 

In a blog post from 20 December 2012, Carrier wrote:

This was even a key part of Goodacre’s argument that Paul knew the people who knew Jesus, and that he got his gospel from them. In fact, Paul insists up and down exactly the opposite . . .

The question is not “Was Paul ‘in Christ’ while persecuting the church?” nor ”Were there people ‘in Christ’ before Paul?” but “Did Paul receive his gospel from those who were ‘in Christ’ before him?”

Predictably, McGrath cavils about Carrier’s “splitting hairs,” as if the entire point of the argument centered on whether Goodacre and other scholars are “imprecise or even wrong about their wording or some other minor detail.” I’m so tired of James’ shtick at this point that I no longer care whether he has reading comprehension problems or self-deception issues. His utter incompetence is wearing me down.

Augustine’s Letters

As I said, I expect Carrier will respond more fully to McGrath’s post, including the obligatory hints of anti-Semitism whenever someone dares mention non-Jewish dying and rising gods. And I’m hoping Richard will tackle that old canard about not being allowed to quote a scholar who’s wrong on some points, but right on others.

For this post, however, I wish instead to focus on the notion that we can gain some insights about Paul’s notorious silence by comparing his epistles to Augustine’s letters. McGrath writes:

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James McGrath the Parallelomaniac

Professor James McGrath is a parallelomaniac. Every time he sees an argument for a parallel that he does not like or from which the author draws an uncomfortable conclusion he claims that the parallel is actually a parallel to Samuel Sandmel’s notion of “parallelomania”.

Samuel Sandmel introduced the term “parallelomania” into English-speaking New Testament studies and explained it as that “extravagance” where one took excerpts out of context from some source and applied them willy-nilly to a text under study. It could also include one making much ado about real parallels if they were also quite meaningless (e.g. We would not be surprised if two different Jewish texts spoke about God and Moses, so we cannot assume one is copying from the other in such a case.)

I spelled all this out in my recent post explaining the difference between legitimate parallels and parallelomania. The same post links to the original 1962 article by Samuel Sandmel.

How do we know a parallel is potentially legitimate and not “parallelomania”? Sandmel was very clear. Detailed study is the most essential criterion of a genuinely plausible parallel; the actual words used, the syntactical structures, the contexts, the larger argument structure, the literary culture in which the act of copying is alleged to have occurred, etc. Sandmel even wrote that he encouraged such studies that helped us identify genuine cases of literary borrowing.

What he warned against was taking excerpts (words and phrases) out of their contexts and fortuitously applying them to the target text. I have been showing (in some comments here but especially in discussions on the EarlyWritings forum) that this is the flawed methodology that in many cases makes D.M. Murdock’s (astrotheology’s) arguments invalid.

Here is a classic example of how parallelomania works. It comes from James McGrath: read more »

What the Context Group (and Casey) Missed

What Is Social-Scientific Criticism?

What Is Social-Scientific Criticism?

Social-Scientific Criticism

In an earlier post — Casey: Taking Context out of Context — we discussed the disturbing habit in NT scholarship of explaining away textual difficulties by playing the high-context card. For example, in What Is Social-Scientific Criticism? John H. Elliott of the Context Group writes:

Further, the New Testament, like the Old Testament and other writings of antiquity, consists of documents written in what anthropologists call a “high context” society where the communicators presume a broadly shared acquaintance with and knowledge of the social context of matters referred to in conversation or writing. Accordingly, it is presumed in such societies that contemporary readers will be able to “fill in the gaps” and “read between the lines.” (John H Elliott. Kindle Locations 125-128)

Similarly, Bruce Malina explains why Paul’s writings are often “misunderstood”:

The New Testament was written in what anthropologists call a “high context” culture. People who communicate with each other in high context societies presume a broadly shared, generally well-understood knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing. (Bruce J. Malina; John J. Pilch. Social-science Commentary on the Letters of Paul (p. 5). Kindle Edition.)

Hoping to explain away the messianic secret, David F. Watson says:

The necessity of protective secrecy was exacerbated in the ancient Mediterranean context by the “high-context” nature of the culture. A high-context culture is one in which people are deeply involved in the everyday activities of those around them and in which information is widely shared. . . . Within the high-context setting, secrecy would be an important and necessary means of protection. (Watson, Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret, p. 25)

Useful but misused

I want to be clear up front. I would never argue that social-scientific criticism is in itself a misguided approach, but I do wish to point out a few observations that indicate a pattern of misuse. We continually read that the people in Jesus’ and Paul’s time lived in a high-context culture, with little in the way of demonstration.

However, a scientific approach demands that scholars provide evidence for their assertions. Besides proving that NT writers lived in high-context cultures, scholars must also prove it follows that their writings will always reflect that high context. Because it is stated flatly as a “known fact,” we miss out on important points of the discussion. For example:

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Jesus Forgotten: Faulty Memory or No Memory?

We have deep depth.*

In a recent interview focused on Jesus mythicism, Dale Allison said:

Re memory: My wife and I disagree about our memories all the time. About things that happened years ago, months ago, weeks ago, days ago, or hours ago. It happens so often that it’s a standing joke, and we’ve reconciled ourselves to the fact that, when there is no third witness, we can’t figure out who is right and who is wrong. Heck, sometimes we both must be wrong. But we’re not mythographers, because what we are almost always misremembering is related to something that happened. It’s faulty memory, not no memory. (emphasis mine)

Dale Allison

Dale Allison

He likens the issue of reliable memory in Jesus studies to the problem of how Socrates was remembered differently by his contemporaries. But Socrates, he asserts, still existed. He then likens the problem of the historical reliability of the New Testament to a court case. (I refer to Neil’s recent post on the Criterion of Embarrassment as to why a court case is a terrible example.)

It’s also worth thinking about conflicting testimony in court. When people disagree on their recollections of an accident or crime scene, we don’t conclude there was no accident or no crime. We just say that memories are frail and then try to find the true story behind the disagreements. I’ve argued in Constructing Jesus that we can try a similar approach with the sources for him.

That concept — finding “the true story behind the disagreements” — leads us to the notion that the gospels (and Paul) provide the gist of the stories about Jesus. They can tell us, Allison imagines, what Jesus was really like, even if the details have been changed over time because of our “frail” memory.

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra i...

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in a 1956 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s like déjà vu all over again.*

As our pal McGrath wrote:

Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned.

Or as Yogi Berra put it:

I really didn’t say everything I said.

I’d like to believe that Yogi really said most of the things he said, but I also know that we humans love our myths. And one of my favorite myths is that Yogi is some sort of unwitting Zen master who spontaneously utters cryptic, timeless Yogi-isms: nuggets of wisdom wrapped in apparent nonsense.
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Comedian Tim Minchin Explains McGrath’s Problem with Mythicism

The honorable associate professor of Butler has once again posted mischievous assertions that I wrote things I did not at all write in my recent post, When “Trusting the Expert Consensus” is Wrong. It makes perfect sense that James McGrath would want to misrepresent this post of mine since in it I explain why the sorts of appeals to authority that the theologian himself is fond of making are fallacious. (This is a common tactic of McGrath, Larry Hurtado, Maurice Casey, Bart Ehrman, Rabbi Joseph Hoffmann, and a handful of others.)

So there is no rule against calling McGrath a mendacious idiot?

Professor Paul Krugman could almost have had James McGrath’s (and the other names above) track records of responding to mythicists in mind when he wrote in an article, Do You Know Who I Am?,

But academic credentials are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for having your ideas taken seriously. If a famous professor repeatedly says stupid things, then tries to claim he never said them [see, for example, the “McGrath Wisely pretends he never said that” refrain in Carrier’s post], there’s no rule against calling him a mendacious idiot — and no special qualifications required to make that pronouncement other than doing your own homework.

Conversely, if someone without formal credentials consistently makes trenchant, insightful observations, he or she has earned the right to be taken seriously, regardless of background.

English: Tim Minchin at the Melbourne Comedy F...

Tim Minchin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If only the honorable theologian had taken time out from watching Dr Who to listen to the occasional address of Tim Minchin that he gave on the day he was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters [See the video clip at this post]. He would surely have come to his senses and grasped what I actually wrote and never have ventured to resort, yet once again, to blatant falsehoods.

Tim Minchin’s point number five:

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

Note again that last paragraph about nuance. read more »

Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 2 (Discovering the Crucial Bridge) — With a note on “Parallelomania”

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailContinuing Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery

This post follows on from my earlier one on Chapter 8 where Brodie is beginning to appreciate the nature the literary artistry of the biblical books.

Chapter 9

The Third Revolution Deepens: 1992-1995

.

Reminder: This series is skipping over many of the personal details related to Thomas Brodie’s intellectual odyssey. It also needs to be kept in mind that generally this book does not present Brodie’s detailed arguments but rather traces how his understanding of the nature and origins of the Biblical literature emerged.

If a Jesus narrative were based on the Elijah-Elisha story (see “That Is An Important Thesis“) one had to ask why. Would not the story of Moses or David have been more appropriate as a model? This question perplexed Brodie until his further studies on Genesis opened up a new awareness of the nature of the biblical literature. But let’s digress a moment to consider an objection that has on some theologian’s blogsites recently been flung at Brodie’s arguments since he has claimed they lead to a “mythicist” conclusion.

Parallelomania: the facts

“Parallelomania” has once again been flung as a dismissive epithet by a number of theologians and religion scholars at Christ myth arguments in general and Thomas Brodie’s arguments in particular, so it is worth taking a moment to revisit the article that introduced the notorious notion of “Parallelomania”. It can be read on this Vridar.org page; I have taken excerpts from it in the following discussion.

Samuel Sandmel

Samuel Sandmel

I don’t think James McGrath has ever had the time to read that article that he invites others to read. If he had, he would know that its author (Samuel Sandmel) points out that by “parallelomania” he means plucking passages from the vast array of, say, rabbinical literature or from a work of Philo’s out of their broader contexts and using them (thus decontextualized) to claim they have some direct relevance to similar sounding passages in the New Testament. That is not what what Brodie is doing. Sandmel even explains that the sort of detailed analysis done by Brodie to explore questions of literary indebtedness is indeed justified and is not to be confused with something else that he is addressing.

The key word in my essay is extravagance. I am not denying that literary parallels and literary influence, in the form of source and derivation, exist. I am not seeking to discourage the study of these parallels, but, especially in the case of the Qumran documents, to encourage them. . . . .

An important consideration is the difference between an abstract position on the one hand and the specific application on the other. . . . . it is in the detailed study rather than in the abstract statement that there can emerge persuasive bases for judgment. . . . . The issue for the student is not the abstraction but the specific. Detailed study is the criterion, and the detailed study ought to respect the context and not be limited to juxtaposing mere excerpts. Two passages may sound the same in splendid isolation from their context, but when seen in context reflect difference rather than similarity.

Note the problem with taking excerpts from a corpus of literature and using them as parallels with something else. This results in

confusing a scrutiny of excerpts with a genuine comprehension of the tone, texture, and import of a literature.

In Brodie’s analyses, on the other hand, it is as much the tone, texture and import of the respective documents that is being analysed as the individual words and phrases.

One of the greatest sins of “parallelomania” is

the excessive piling up of . . . passages. Nowhere else in scholarly literature is quantity so confused for quality . . . . The mere abundance of so-called parallels is its own distortion . . . .

I recently posted chapter 7 of Brodie’s book to demonstrate that Brodie does not make his case by a mere piling up of matching words or ideas. The structure, the theme, the context, the motivation — these are all part of Brodie’s argument.

Finally, the crowning sin of parallelomania is one that I not too long ago identified in the work of historian Michael Grant about Jesus. I’ll first quote Sandmel:

On the one hand, they quote the rabbinic literature endlessly to clarify the NT. Yet even where Jesus and the rabbis seem to say identically the same thing, Strack-Billerbeck manage to demonstrate that what Jesus said was finer and better. . . . . Why, I must ask, pile up the alleged parallels, if the end result is to show a forced, artificial, and untenable distinction even within the admitted parallels?

Grant followed many theologians who insist that though the golden rule was known in some form among the rabbis (and in other civilizations), Jesus expressed it better than anyone else.

Sandmel’s article on “parallelomania” is actually an endorsement of the sort of work being done by scholars who work seriously on literary analysis of texts and a warning against the sins found too often among the mainstream scholars. Unfortunately some theologians, McGrath included in his Burial of Jesus, are on record as saying that literary analysis has no place in the work of historical inquiry. On the contrary, without literary analysis the historian has no way of knowing how to interpret literary documents.

It is that very detailed study that Sandmel said is necessary, and the study of the context, both immediate context and the wider cultural context of literary practices of the day, that Brodie is undertaking. He is not plucking passages out of context from disparate sources and making an abstract claim that they can be read as a “parallel” to, and by implication source of, what we read in the gospels. (Such “extravagance” is the characteristic fault of “astrotheology”, but not of the scholarly work of Brodie and MacDonald.)

This is not the same as saying that MacDonald’s and Brodie’s arguments are necessarily correct. They still need to be studied and engaged with. There may be alternative explanations for some of the data they have addressed and believe points to literary borrowing. But it is not particularly scholarly to simply reject an argument one does not like by dismissing it with a pejorative label.

Now back to Beyond the Quest read more »

What Do We Mean by “Incompetent”?

Shemp Howard

Shemp Howard
The Forgotten Stooge
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can’t we all just get along?

In a recent post, Tom Verenna urged us all to stop using derogatory words to describe people whom we disagree with. He did that hipster thing where his sentence gets broken up into one-word, emphatic, staccato commands:

This. Has. Got. To. Stop.

That. Is. So. Cool.

Wait a second. What, exactly, has got to stop? Oh, here it is.  This:

Someone disagrees with an argument made by someone else and they decide this person must be ‘incompetent’ because their argument is different.

If you’re at all familiar with the art and science of political speech and propaganda, you will recognize that sentence as a prime example of what we call “framing.” Before explaining Neil’s complaint against McGrath’s inadequate review, Tom needs to pre-explain or frame the argument.

Tom would have us believe that Neil’s gripe has nothing to do with Dr. McGrath’s longstanding pattern of over-the-top behavior whenever he gets the slightest whiff off Jesus mythicism. Not at all. It’s about “someone” not liking someone else’s “different” argument.

A different drummer

So what is McGrath’s “different” opinion? I’m glad you asked. Let’s list a few and then discuss.

I could go on. You can find many more “scholarly observations” using fairly simple Google searches. For example, here’s how you can search for specific words, restricted to the Cakemix site:

site:www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix "mythicist"

In case after case we see that McGrath disagreed with an argument made by someone else and decided that, because his or her argument is different, that person must have psychological reasons and ulterior motives for being “wrong.” McGrath feels compelled, no doubt as a public service, to explain the personal motivations for mythicist behavior. McGrathian conjecture knows no boundaries. Perhaps they have some pathological predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories, or they have an obsession with parallelomania. Perhaps they are insane.

McGrath, in his review of Thomas Brodie’s memoir, made a passing reference to “the bankruptcy of Jesus mythicism,” accusing Brodie of having “complete disregard for other possibilities.” Naturally, he doesn’t indict Brodie alone – all mythicists must be tarred with the same brush.

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Ongoing Disregard for Facts and Denials of Old Criticisms (yes, McGrath again, sorry)

Dr McGrath, after I demonstrated that he once again claimed a mythicist wrote the opposite of what he really did write, has quaintly responded with a post titled Why Do Mythicists Care So Little About Facts and Details? in which he writes a revisionist account of his original post.

With a beautiful irony McGrath opens with an astonishingly cavalier disregard for the facts and details that both Richard Carrier and I have ever written about scholars such as Thompson and Noll with respect to mythicism:

[Neil Godfrey] repeats Richard Carrier’s claim that mythicism is embraced by individuals like Thomas Thompson (who has distanced himself from mythicism) and Kurt Noll (whose contribution to Is This Not the Carpenter? is rather wonderful and does much to undermine mythicism).

Here was my quote from Richard Carrier:

Combine this with Brodie’s defection to mythicism, alongside Thompson’s, and (like Thompson’s) the publicly professed “historicity agnosticism” of Arthur Droge, professor of early Christianity at UCSD, and Kurt Noll, associate professor of religion at Brandon University, and Ehrman’s argument that only amateurs and outsiders take the Jesus Myth theory seriously is now in the dust. There is still, certainly, a litany of crank and amateur mythicist nonsense. But there is also a serious case to be made, by serious and well-qualified scholars. And they need to be paid attention to, not dismissed and mistreated, their arguments straw manned or ignored.

So McGrath is once again careless with the facts and details. That is not a claim that Thompson and Noll “embrace mythicism”. They do not. Carrier clearly states Droge and Noll are “historicity agnostics”! The point is just as damaging to McGrath’s case, however. They are not viscerally hostile towards the Christ Myth possibility as is McGrath. They acknowledge its plausibility. McGrath can never accept even that much. Never.

I don’t know if Carrier has ever said Thompson “embraces” mythicism. I certainly have never said any such thing. I have always been quite clear about Thompson’s own case. Thompson addresses the nature of the evidence that we rely upon for Jesus and argues for its stereotypical nature. The same type of literature is found elsewhere applied to both historical and mythical figures. Thompson is, as he writes in the very article McGrath hand-waves readers to study (does McGrath ever stop to take note of the detailed contents in any of the citations he hand-waves people to look at?), pointing out that the prevailing assumption of the historicity of Jesus is problematic given the nature of the evidence we have:

I wrote my monograph of 2005 in an effort to explore the continuity of a limited number of themes which were rooted in ancient Near Eastern royal ideology—an issue which is not only marginally related to questions of historicity, but one which also has much to say about the perception of history and historical method among modern scholars. . . . It is a small book, and its ambitions are few: hardly more than to point out that our warrant for assuming the existence of a historical Jesus has important limits.

Yes, his argument has the potential to open up the question of mythicism. But Thompson himself is not addressing mythicism per se. I know his argument reasonably well, I hope, because I believe my own arguments are very strongly influenced by Thompson’s. That’s why I have generally avoided the label “mythicist” for myself.

McGrath’s hyper-sensitivity in this area does not seem to benefit him with any capability of understanding such subtleties.

Er, no, I meant he tried to publish with the wrong companies

In my initial response to James McGrath’s review of Thomas L. Brodie’s Memoir, I zeroed in on a single remark by McGrath that grotesquely misrepresented what Brodie himself explicitly wrote. I explained why I was not writing a comprehensive response at that time and why I chose to single out that one point for attention.

300px-Caprichos_Nr_23,_Dieser_Staub

Never learned how to do scholarship

McGrath was trying to establish a point that the reason Brodie’s thesis was not published had to do with unscholarly methods and not its conclusion that Jesus was not an historical person. He needs this to be true to argue a case that the only reason mythicism is rejected is because it is not based on sound scholarship. Hence he stressed:

Brodie indicates that he had this conviction even before he had learned to do scholarship, and that his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes . . . (see the complete sentence below)

But although his idea was concocted prior to his learning how to do scholarship . . .

I recommend that this book be widely read. It illustrates the bankruptcy of Jesus mythicism, and the fact that it has the potential to ruin careers, not because there is ingrained antipathy to it in the academy, but because the case for it is based on thoroughly unpersuasive arguments, and the complete disregard for other possibilities, . . .

The book can serve as a warning to young scholars to be open to criticism and feedback (and to more established scholars to provide honest and clear feedback, since I found myself wondering whether anyone actually told Brodie that he was using dubious methods and criteria to produce dubious results).

Specifically, the words of McGrath I was exposing as a blatantly false portrayal of what Brodie himself explained about the reason his manuscript was not published were these:

Brodie indicates that . . . his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes, refusal to accept criticisms of and feedback on his claims and interpretations, and attempting to find a Christian publisher for what he wrote on the subject (pp.32,35,40,42).

All of a sudden, in his second defence of his initial review, McGrath is now telling us that the last line of the above was his main point! Brodie’s real problem was that he was going to the wrong sort of publisher! We will soon see how questionable this take is. read more »

McGrath: The Facts Are Such “Minor” Details. Impressions Rule!

This is my response to James McGrath’s post, Mythicist Language is Designed to Make Lies Sound Truthful. Is McGrath really saying that a mythicist argument by Brodie is actually a set of “lies”? If so, that underscores the very point I have been making about how censorship works in academia — and McGrath is himself one of the most stalwart of guardians of “correct thoughts” in the arena of New Testament studies.

James McGrath continues to refer to even the most dry, factual posts and writings that lean towards favoring the Christ myth thesis as “rants” and “lies” — presumably solely on the grounds that any writing that leans to such a conclusion must by definition be a “rant” or a “lie”.

And THAT is exactly why it is an Orwellian joke that such a person should be considered as qualified to speak about censorship and academic freedom in the context of the Christ myth. THAT is how censorship in academia works. It is through this sort of institutional intellectual bullying — denigrating anyone who advances certain types of alternative views as peddlers of “rants” or “lies” — that we see censorship working in all sorts of areas. There is no need for a “conspiracy” — and of course McGrath likes to intimate in his same post that mythicists are “conspiracy peddlers”, too — which is a real rant and lie. Academia is not immune from this sort of subtle systemic censorship, and never has been, as Julien Benda pointed out so dramatically in another context with “The Treason of the Intellectuals”. What was true of France in his day has been just as true of the English speaking intelligentsia up to our own day. And if it is so blatant in the political arena, we should not be surprised if it is alive in the world of public religious convictions, too. Politics and religion, the most ideological of our academic “disciplines”.

The same old

Of course McGrath will protest that he has engaged with and rebutted mythicist arguments many, many times. He will wave his hand and invite readers to look at all those posts and comments he has made in the past.

I encourage everyone who reads such hand-waving invitations of his to hold him to account and insist he direct a reader to a specific post or comment. (Note that’s exactly what I did in my earlier post to which he is now responding.) read more »

How Did McGrath Get Himself Inside Thomas Brodie?

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 »

McGrath’s Review of Brodie’s Memoir: Incompetent or Dishonest?

While preparing the next step of my posts on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, a Google search brought to my attention a review of this same work by James McGrath back in February this year. It also recently came to my attention that McGrath is to present a paper on academic freedom and that he has chosen to use Brodie’s experiences as he describes them in this Memoir as a case study.

So I read McGrath’s review of Brodie’s book, expecting to find a much more professional treatment of a scholarly peer than he had ever bestowed upon the amateur Earl Doherty. In “reviewing” Doherty McGrath explicitly defended his refusal to explain Doherty’s arguments because he did not want to lend any respectability to mythicism. When I asked McGrath why he sometimes claimed Doherty wrote the very opposite of what he did write, or accused him of not addressing themes and arguments that he clearly did address and at length, I received in return either no reply or an insult.

I did not expect to find the same treatment of Thomas Brodie. But that’s exactly what I found. One difference is that McGrath couches much of his language in tones of condescension whereas he was belligerently abusive towards Doherty.

I will write a complete response to McGrath’s entire review in a future post. However, for now I am incensed enough at his outright incompetence (or is it plain old intellectual dishonesty?) and failure to write a straight and truthful account of Brodie’s Memoir that I will address just one of his remarks.

McGrath writes in his second paragraph:

Brodie indicates that . . . his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes, refusal to accept criticisms of and feedback on his claims and interpretations, and attempting to find a Christian publisher for what he wrote on the subject (pp.32,35,40,42).

I am singling out this section because it directly relates to a section I was preparing to write up in my next blog post so registers most strongly in me at this moment. What McGrath has written here is not at all what I recalled from my reading of Brodie so I checked the page references. (Like Joel Watts, it seems McGrath assumes that it does not matter if he leaves bogus citations; that if he doesn’t follow up such things then no-one else will bother, either.)

Page 32 makes no reference whatever to a publisher or any attempt by Brodie to have anything published with the exception to say that a work of his was published in 1992. Rather, this page refers to Brodie’s studies for a Diploma. read more »

Carrier on Brodie and Rene Salm, at SBL, on Nazareth, Pious Fraud, James McGrath and others

Richard Carrier has posted a review of Thomas L. Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. It is here on the freethought blog. I will be posting more of my own thoughts on the book in future posts here. While I agree with much of Carrier’s assessment I do hold back from some of his more “jaded” (his term) expressions: Of course the book is not written as an argument to prove Jesus never existed. It is, as Carrier rightly notes (though I think he loses some balance here in overstressing what the book is not) an autobiographical journey of how Brodie came to conclude Jesus did not exist. While it is certainly logically valid to insist that it is not valid to conclude that Jesus did not exist if all one has is evidence that Jesus was a literary character, but at the same time, in the absence of positive evidence for Jesus’ historicity, it is certainly valid to conclude that there is no reason to accept Jesus as a historical figure. If the only extant evidence is literary metaphor or a theological concept then it is valid to conclude that Jesus was a literary metaphor until other evidence comes along to the contrary. (Carrier will possibly object here by pointing to Paul’s letters, but this is a discussion I will have to leave for another time.)

I do agree with Carrier that Brodie does make some excellent points on the scholarship that has attempted to find historicity in oral tradition, and I have posted in depth on that aspect of Brodie’s book.

René Salm has posted the paper he delivered at the SBL conference recently. I like the way he nails from the outset common dismissals of his thesis that Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus (my emphasis):

Not being an archaeologist myself, I am often asked: “How can you date evidence, Mr. Salm?” or: “How can you presume to correct professional archaeologists?” or: “How can you have any opinion on these matters?” However, there is a misunderstanding inherent in these questions, for I have never dated anything at all. I have simply identified the relevant archaeological experts and quoted their published datings: Hans-Peter Kuhnen on kokhim tombs, Varda Sussman on bow-spouted oil lamps, Roland Deines on Jewish stone vessels, Amos Kloner on circular blocking stones, and so on. The case regarding Nazareth does not rest on my opinion at all. Anyone who disagrees with The Myth of Nazareth is not disagreeing with me but is taking issue with the leading archaeological experts in the world. As we shall see, this is fatal for traditional conclusions regarding Nazareth.

and on those popular reports of the house and bath supposedly from Jesus’ time: read more »

Why the Church Does Not Want Jesus — ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ chapter 4

Niels Peter Lemche is the author of the fourth chapter of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’, “The Grand Inquisitor and Christ: Why the Church Does Not Want Jesus”. He frames his case around the parable in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that tells of Christ being arrested on his return to earth in the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor informs the imprisoned Christ that he will have to be burned at the stake because he is a danger to the Church. But there is a subtle twist in the parable which is the key to understanding the paradoxical argument that follows.

But before starting, let me point out that this post is different from earlier ones discussing chapters of this book. Rather than sequentially paraphrasing the argument I take some core arguments in Lemche’s chapter as a springboard for discussion of my own observations. (So I omit all reference to the origins of historical-critical scholarship, liberation theology and third world exegesis, Philipp Gabler‘s famous lecture on the conflict between historical theology and ecclesiastical dogmatics, the various ways both Catholics and Protestants have historically controlled the reading of the Bible, Marcion’s and von Harnack’s complaints about the inclusion of the Jewish scriptures in the Christian Bible . . . . , that Lemche covers in this chapter.) Now back to the parable. . . .

Ivan Karamazov (John Malkovich)

The parable is told by Ivan Karamazov who appears to side with the Inquisitor in objecting to the Jesus Christ who walks straight out of the pages of the Gospels and begins performing miracles etc just as he did there. (There is much more to the original story, but let’s roll with the details Lemche selects for his analogy.) The irony for Lemche is that this same Ivan also represents those who in other ways question the Church. The Grand Inquisitor thus turns out to be something of a double-edged sword. “Perhaps there are more layers represented in this novel than appear at first sight.

For Lemche, the Grand Inquisitor represents “the position of the well-educated clergy of the Church“. The threats it faces come from two opposing sides, and one of these sides finds itself in an ambiguous position:

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Threat #1 — the pious laity with their Bible

Yes, there is the threat from “the pious laity having read too much of the Bible”:

The difference between the Christ of the Church and the Jesus of the Gospels becomes dangerous when explained to the laity. (p. 77)

Elsewhere Lemche has argued that pious people should not be allowed within a hundred metres of the Bible. “Reading the Bible has not done them much good.” Some who would follow in Christ’s footsteps have been rendered harmless by being incorporated into the constraints of the Church itself (e.g. the Franciscans). Others have gone down in history as suicide cults. I and many others would add a vast array of dysfunctional mental, physical, financial and social legacies among too many of the faithful. read more »