2009-04-27

The Real Battle in debates over the bible among non-believers

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by Neil Godfrey

updated . . . .

Recently I quoted René Salm’s summary of the deeper psychological issues that believers of the bible often bring to the fore when engaging sceptical arguments — in the Real Battle in debates over the bible with believers.

What I am still trying to understand is why the same “group think”, the same “circling of the wagons”, the same intestinal reactions bedevil the responses of so many nonbelievers, scholars included, when “engaging” arguments and critiques of Jesus mythicists. “Engaging” in quotation marks because 99% of the time the responses of the “historicists” are red-herrings, ad-hominems, straw-men, whatever — anything but what the central arguments of those mythicists so often are.

Strange. I have never been able to bring myself to read a whole page of anything written by the fatuous reasoningsof the likes of Acharya S, but I do know that the best and well-known mythicist arguments are grounded in cultural and exegetical biblical studies, and are far more cogent, devoid of fatuous circularity and inconsistencies, than just about anything I have read by historicists about “the historical Jesus”.

A little while ago I wrote a detailed critique of Bauckham’s betrayal of true scholarship and logical and historical enquiry, and did so because of the astonishing popularity such a book was winning. I could have written as damning a critique of almost any other book on the historical Jesus. I have so many marginal notes of points to make in quite a number of prominent scholars — I may yet do this, when retired maybe.

It is easy to understand the knee jerk nonsense of committed apologists. I like to think I avoid going out of my way to debate them. They feel a need for their faith. That’s their business. Live and let live.

Maybe the irrational but nonetheless deeply meaningful needs of nonbelieving scholars who ridicule and scarcely hide their contempt for those they like to call “mythers”,  as if their position is not even deserving of a proper noun, have something to do with self-actualization, ego-needs from a certain academic circle, I don’t know. Strange.

For the curious, the above musings were prompted by a depressing series of exchanges among academic ‘historicists’ and those they contemptuously denigrate as mythers – even though it is patently obvious to anyone who has read the better “mythicist” arguments that such historicists have never bothered to apprise themselves of the basis of mythicist arguments in the first place. I can imagine if some of them tried, they’d find the books they hold as repulsive as a socialist tract might be in the hands of a Rockefeller. Got carried away in there with long winded sentences — the occasion of the above musings are the exchanges found in The Forbidden Gospels Blog posts, My decision about the Jesus project, and The Jesus Seminar Jesus project is bankrupt, part 4. Steven Carr’s basic questions that went to the core of the sham behind the historicists’ arguments were simply ridiculed or ignored — not once engaged seriously.

When confronted with the mythicist position, it seems erudite scholars and untrained fundamentalists respond as one.

Strange.

But maybe not really. Peer pressure is a powerful thing, especially when one’s livelihood and professional reputation depends on a certain base acceptance by one’s professional peers.

Depressing.

Not least because not so long ago I encountered historicists declaring as absolute fact that there is as much evidence for the existence of Jesus as for Julius Caesar or such. Now — and maybe it is a sign of some progress — scholars actually admit there is no real “evidence” to “prove” the existence of Jesus. Or even more depressing, when the flimsiest threads (a verse in Galatians open to several meanings and a debated passage in Josephus) serve as “bedrock” evidence for historicity.

I’m reminded of the intellectual dishonesty of the Catholic Church and its hired scholars to proclaim “proof” for the historical existence of Nazareth. I think I need to start hitting harder again so much of the nonsense that passes for “scholarship” in biblical studies – and not just the Bauckham fringe.

  • Mary
    2009-04-29 16:06:07 UTC - 16:06 | Permalink

    Neil
    ‘intestinal reactions’ – that’s just a great way to put things! Try posting anything related to the mythicist position on the Dawkins forums – and a torrent of verbal abuse re the mythicist position will come your way. This forum’s resident mythicist debunker, an atheist, will quickly give one a ‘savage kicking’ for being such a ‘dumb atheist’…..The hostility to the mythicist position borders on the extreme – must be a raw nerve somewhere in that camp!

    “scholars actually admit there is no real “evidence” to “prove” the existence of Jesus”. I do think that this admission, while a small step of progress – should more accurately be viewed, from their position, as an admission of defeat. After all, when one has reached a conclusion that cannot either be proven or disproven – the conclusion, the result, is meaningless. As a faith position, such a position can retain whatever the believers seek. However, as a position from which to understand the early, historical, beginnings of Christianity, this everyman position, Jesus as a nobody, an anybody, is meaningless. There is no way at all to identify such a Jesus; one could just pass him by while walking down the street…..

    Regarding the “bedrock” evidence for historicity”, particularly Josephus.
    It is the gospels that are the core written documents to work from – not the non-biblical writings. If our understanding of the core gospel documents is in error – then when we look at the non-biblical hearsay written documents – we are looking at them through a dark glass. Our misconceptions on the gospel storyline would have skewed what meaning we perceive is in the hearsay written documents. And that, basically, is where the historical Jesus camp stands.

    Perhaps one of the reasons the mythicist position has not made as much headway as mythicists would like, is that , it seems to me, the Christ myth element has been allowed to overshadow the Jesus of Nazareth gospel mythology (its all one myth from my perspective – just the gospels and Paul emphasising different elements). The mythicists can argue the Cosmic Christ element until kingdom come…..and the historical Jesus camp will continue on its merry way…..It is the everyman Jesus theory that needs to be exposed for the meaningless assertion it is. Maybe its time to put the Cosmic Christ on the shelve for a little while – along with those pesky non-biblical hearsay writings – and take the ‘fight’ with the historical Jesus camp right back into the gospels.

    • 2009-04-30 15:09:37 UTC - 15:09 | Permalink

      Wish I could understand where that raw nerve is located. Are some nonbelievers kind of insecure in their nonbelief status and hence desperate to be seen on the “respectable” side of the mainstream in every other way possible, as if this will advance their credibility?

      As for the everyman Jesus, you are spot on. I recall Earl Doherty pointing that out some years back on one of the academic discussion forums — the fact that a supposedly historical figure can be interpreted as anything from a proto-Marxist to an establishment Pharisee ought to be enough for the fundamental questions to crack historicists’ assumptions. IIRC Doherty’s point was met with silence at best. Historical characters are historical because of their role (emperor, tanner, philsopher) — that is more important than their actual name for them to enter the historical annals. Yet it is the historical role of Jesus that has historicists in contention. A name without a role in history is surely an emperor or tanner without clothes.

      As for the gospels being bedrock evidence, I understand your point. I personally have seen no reason to think of the gospels as historical for so long now I take it for granted. The first gospel, Mark, makes no real sense if read historically, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, and there are many indications it is intended as a figurative story of some sort. And given that the other gospels are direct or indirect offshoots from Mark . . . . Some fundamentalists (and other believers) seem to sense or half-suspect this themselves, it seems, — Why else do they pull out tooth and claw to defend the non-biblical references to Jesus in the likes of Josephus as much as if God himself equally inspired those passages, too?

      As for the Josephus reference, I was amused to read one critic of Steven Carr criticize his questioning of the basic assumptions of their arguments complain because he was “anti-Christian”. The complainant failed to realize, it seems, that this charge only demonstrated that his own position was based on Christian bias. Of course someone who doesn’t believe in an historical Jesus is hardly likely to be a Christian. So what was his point? He was determined to read the rhetoric of either an ideological or personal attack into what by another other measure were surely purely logical arguments/questions. He felt threatened, in other words.

      You may have something with your last paragraph re the reasons for the slow headway in the mythicist position. That’s why I personally have come to see the whole question of the historicity or not of Jesus as beside the point, and that the real question is to explore the origins of Christianity, whatever they were. If that quest leads to an origin that involves no personal Jesus, then that is a side-issue. Well, it is for a nonChristian like me.

      On the other hand, the mythicist position has been around a long time, and it has really simply been ignored by the mainstream overall. Once in a while someone jumps up and says it has been “disproven or discredited long ago”, but when you push them for where this happened, there is silence or a referral to a few sources that wasted their time deconstructing straw-men. Not a waste of time for those who wanted them to do the job of demolishing the mythicist position — they seemed to be glad someone else had supposedly done their dirty work for them.

      Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  • Pingback: A spectrum of Jesus mythicists and mythers « Vridar

  • Ed Jones
    2009-05-12 23:32:05 UTC - 23:32 | Permalink

    Ed Jones said,

    Check again My decision about the Jesus Project, Comments 30 – 34 for one reconstruction of so-called Chrstian Origins. See if it may be worth your while.

  • aziz
    2010-02-23 09:41:53 UTC - 09:41 | Permalink

    How would you know something is “far more cogent” than Acharya’s work when you’ve just admitted you’ve never read a single page?

    Thanks for the inadvertent admission of the intellectual dishonesty and another example of the smears constantly thrown at Acharya/Murdock.

    Your comment about her in your blog, “A spectrum of Jesus mythicists and mythers” is about as bad too.

    You absolutely cannot be trusted when it comes to the works of Acharya/ Murdock.

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