Birth of a Movement: some fresh insights from Earl Doherty

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by Neil Godfrey

Let’s move on to something positive and evidence-based by way of explanation for the origins of Christianity and its early diversity, leaving behind the “scholarly” speculations based on narratives for which there is no external supporting evidence and that are full of fanciful tales.

Moving from Crossley to Doherty in discussing the birth of the “Jesus” movement is like moving from a wasteland of mirages and stubble to an oasis of clear-headed, well-supported insights.

Doherty? Yup. And I have the permission of Professor Stevan Davies of Misericordia University to quote his own views of Doherty’s insights. (Davies is the author of Jesus the Healer, summarized here.) From http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/5438

I haven’t read [Thomas] Kuhn in a coon’s age, but recall something to
the effect that a prevailing scientific paradigm gradually
accumulates problematic elements that are swept under the
rug until a new paradigm appears, accounting for those elements,
at which time it becomes clear (where it did not before) that
those problematic elements should have indicated fatal flaws
in the former paradigm.

Earl’s paradigm is a paradigm. It’s not simply a reworking of
the usual materials in the usual way to come up with a different
way of understanding them. It’s not an awful lot different than
the claim “there is no such thing as phlogiston, fire comes
about through an entirely different mechanism.”

New paradigms are very very rare. I thought that my J the H
gave a new paradigm rather than just another view on the
subject, but no. Earl’s is what a new paradigm looks like.

(And if he’s not the first to advance it, what the hell.)
A new paradigm asserts not that much of what you know
is wrong but that everything you know is wrong… more or
less. Your whole perspective is wrong. The simple thing to
do is to want nothing to do with such a notion
, which
simple thing has been violently asserted on crosstalk by
various people. Indeed, at the outset of this discussion,
more than one person asserted that since this is an Historical
Jesus list, we presuppose the Historical Jesus, therefore
a contrary paradigm should not even be permitted on the list.
I think this is cognate to the establishment’s reaction to Galileo.

But it’s not that Earl advocates lunacy in a manner devoid
of learning. He advocates a position that is well argued
based on the evidence and even shows substantial knowledge
of Greek. But it cannot be true, you say. Why not? Because
it simply can’t be and we shouldn’t listen to what can’t be
true. No. Not so quick.

The more you think about early Christianity from the perspective
of the new paradigm, the more the old paradigm can be seen
to be flawed. … and the more the rather incoherent efforts to
make those flaws disappear seem themselves flawed.
Ptolemaic astronomy does work, sort of, if you keep patching
it up. So we can say that the host of Historical Jesus scholars
haven’t got it right, but we know that they are going about
it more or less the right way because it’s the only way we
know of.
Or indeed we say that HJ scholars are going about
a task that is just impossible, but still their goal is in theory,
however impossible in practice, the right goal. Really?

This isn’t to guarantee that Earl’s arguments are always
I’m not at all pleased with the redating of Mark etc.
Or that he’s thought of everything… the normative Jesus
who is a Galilean Jew whose followers immediately were
subject to persecution by the pharisee Paul are huge holes
the standard paradigm just ignores… but he’s thought of a lot.

You cannot advance very far in thinking if you simply refuse
to adopt a new paradigm and see where it takes you. Even
if, ultimately, you reject it, the adoption of it, or at least the
effort to argue against it, will take you to places you have not
been before.
Hence Goranson (an intelligent knowledgeable
person, thus the foil for this letter) is wrong.

Stephen Carlson’s objections to Earl on the grounds that
Mark is evidence for an historical Jesus just takes the
standard paradigm and asserts it. That’s one way of going
about it, as pointing to the self-evident fact that the sun
goes around the earth will nicely refute Copernicus.
But it’s not that simple.

But in going along with Earl I’ve learned more than
by going along with anybody else whose ideas I’ve come
across anywhere.
I went along with Mark Goodacre, and
learned some there. Refusing to go along, refusing even to
argue against, being happy that nothing new is being
discussed except widgets of modification to the standard
paradigm, that’s where you really learn almost nothing.

Crossan, or Johnson, Allison or Sanders, can give you slightly
different views of the standard view. Earl gives a completely
different view. His is a new paradigm, theirs are shifts in
focus within the old paradigm. From whom will you learn


Thanks for the intro, Steve. Now for my presentation of just one of Doherty’s insights:

Doherty begins a chapter titled The Birth of a Movement thus: Continue reading “Birth of a Movement: some fresh insights from Earl Doherty”

Hoo boy, I have a headache

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

(Thinks) No, I don’t have a headache, but I feel like I should have one.

I wake up this morning as usual first check my iphone to see how the various media are spinning the Thailand events, check to see if there is any other news worth knowing about, then see if anyone has had a peek at my blog posts overnight. And what is waiting for me there but a very severe public chastising from a woman on the other side of the world — and a fellow Aussie, no less, a potential drinking partner!

I skimmed it and decided I needed a long walk. Haven’t had nearly enough exercise lately and I need time to myself to think through some major work projects too, and to appreciate the goodness of sunshine and smiling early morning faces.

Now I’m back reinvigorated and ready to go.

Well, where to start?


Okay — Why do I sometimes pick on certain scholarly works to criticize or share?

Answer: The ones I like to share are those that offer insights from a different perspective that I think is worth sharing. The ones I criticize are those that I have come to understand are looked up to as major contributions to the faith of believers, or are held up as benchmark works that establish and even extend the foundations of the core findings of historical Jesus and early Christianity scholarship.

An example of one widely esteemed as a major “wow” book for believers was Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”. Now I know what it’s like to be excited by new findings in research. And I especially can appreciate the thrill of new sensational ideas charging in honour and celebration of one’s own personal beliefs. But I also know that false beliefs, shoddy reasoning, has a lot to answer for. And that public intellectuals have a greater responsibility in this area.

So in the case of Bauckham’s book I felt some obligation to make available to anyone interested what I saw as the flaws in his arguments and methods. It’s good for choices to be made available.

In the case of Crossley, I did not think it worth saying much in any detail until a number of people began to give me the impression that his work was also taken much more seriously than I had expected after reading it for myself some time ago. I thought it was mostly smoke-and-mirror type scholarship with nothing substantial to say at all. Yet I was regularly seeing references to the strength of his case. But I never saw any detailed defence of his arguments.

It was as if people were so impressed by the complexity and depth of his arguments that they could not summarize them themselves, but they could always refer to his books and challenge anyone to deny their import.

One associate professor challenged me in a similar way to take on the way E. P. Sanders had so soundly proven the historicity of Jesus. I began to show in detail how Sanders did no such thing and he went quiet and changed the subject.

So I have shown what I see as the fallacies and shallowness of Crossley’s arguments, and I would expect that if they were really so sound I would have fact after fact fired back at me to show how and where I had misrepresented them, or failed to honestly rebut them.

But no, all I get is how it is impossible to point out where I am wrong in anything less than a full size book, and therefore I have to be content with accepting personal abuse instead. I find this surprising. I have catalogued over the years probably thousands of scholarly works, and I think just about every one of them, certainly most of them, has somewhere what is called an abstract — a summary of the arguments contained in a scholarly thesis, book, article or paper. The only bad and incompetent abstracts I have read are by those who are undergraduates. But everyone has to learn.

Yet no, not even an abstract (of what a book pointing out the wrongs of my critiques would contain) can be mustered against my arguments. Only demands that I explain what my religious background is that has made me supposedly so embittered and hateful of Christianity that I would dare argue against the basic model accepted by mainstream scholars.

Well, it sounds to me as if I have no need to spell out the details of my religious background since I am already being accused of such malicious motives stemming from some warped soul-bending past experiences.

So what is the point of bothering to remind such accusers that my complete religious history has been linked from my blog ever since I started it a few years ago. One only has to click the About Vridar button to access it. But it seems that this is not enough, and I am to be condemned for attempting to hide my past experiences in some nefarious attempt to conceal the root of my evil motives.

Oh, I almost forgot. I have also posted some of my experiences with fundamentalism here — including quite a few positive experiences. But I hide these in a secret place that can only be accessed by scrolling through Categories headings on the right margin on my blog.

I used to think that scholars were paragons of reason and enlightenment. That if I asked them a question they would enlighten me. That if I made an error they would instruct me. That if I disagreed with their conclusions they would point out my mistakes.

Instead, I find myself being painted as someone with an irrational vendetta against Christianity? Woops! Where on earth did that come from? Maybe someone can explain to me that it is impossible to pinpoint any specific evidence on my blog that demonstrates this vendetta, but if pushed they could write a book to explain it, but don’t ask for an abstract summary of that book.

Interesting how scholars who cannot defend their arguments resort to ad hominem. I discussed Craig Evan’s tendency to do this in his book Fabricating Jesus, too. It is truly an amazing way to respond to critiques and exposures of the shoddy reasoning underlying so much that passes for biblical scholarship. I feel these painful responses are really testimony to the truth of the critiques. There is nothing to defend that is based on sound reasoning and evidence.

Sometimes these scholars go on the attack and issue critiques of their own — usually of Earl Doherty’s books. But I do wish those scholars who do this actually demonstrate that they have read either some, or more than a few lines on a website, of what he actually argues.

But now I’m starting to go into a rant of my own. Okay, I’ve been ranting too long.

Will finish this, have breakfast, and maybe when I feel more comfortable see if it is worth responding in the comments section to my chastisement.