Returning from Freethought & Rationalism Discussion Board

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve been over at the FRDB’s Biblical Criticism & History discussion list the past week or so and it was the usual mix of the stimulating and tedious. One old retired scholar there (I’d also like to call him a gentleman but he’s anything but) I first encountered years ago on Crosstalk, and it was so painful to see someone could in all these years not have learned a thing or lessened his rabid obsession to pedantically fault anyone he takes an intestinal dislike to.

Here he was again, making the same claim he made quite some years ago when I was first learning how to go about introducing myself to the scholarly works on biblical studies. He said, once again, that the arguments against the historical existence of Jesus were soundly dealt with ‘many times’ and ‘years ago’. There was no need to revisit them. In support of this assertion he once again gave the same sources he had years before. By this time, however, I had become better read, so I challenged him. (He indicated in one discussion he had no intention of replying, which I thought was interesting.)

He had pointed to Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus (2nd and 3rd editions) as an instance where the “Jesus mythicist” arguments had been rebutted, and once again to chapter 2 of Weaver’s book, The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century: 1900-1950, to a discussion of the scholarship that he has said rebuts the mythicist case.

Schweitzer’s response to those who argued against the historicity of Jesus, according to Weaver (p.62), was that since “Christianity would likely always have to reckon with the possibility of Jesus’ non-historicity”, these debates should be bypassed by grounding Christianity in “a metaphysics”.

That does not sound like a secure rebuttal on historical grounds for the mythicist position.

To my shame I still have not read Schweitzer’s 2nd or 3rd edition in which he discusses the arguments against Jesus’ historicity, but I have since ordered the book and will do so.

The other point Weaver makes is that the “most able” arguments (p.69) against a nonhistorical Jesus are those forwarded by Shirley Jackson Case. The full text of Case’s book can be found online. It’s arguments for historicity are well known to the likes of “mythicists” such as Wells and Doherty and others who seem to lean towards mythicism, such as R. M. Price. They are generally simplistic and well and truly knocked flying and out of sight by anyone who has read Doherty or Wells, or even Price.

Maybe I should sum them up here again in a future post, too.

But the main point is that while there have been many discussing various images of the “historical Jesus”, none that I have seen takes a step back with a truly critical look at the core assumptions underpinning their model.

Meanwhile, thanks to “mcduff” who has kindly taken the effort to list up to nine points that cumulatively argue for a post-70 date (very post 70 — closer to the turn of the century) for Mark’s gospel in comments to an earlier post. I’d like some time to write them up in a comparative table with other arguments — those for dating Mark pre-70 and those that go a step further and date it around 130 c.e.

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Neil Godfrey

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