How and Why Scholars Fail to Rebut Earl Doherty

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by Neil Godfrey

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Anyone who is familiar with Earl Doherty’s site will probably find this post superfluous.

The mysterious origin of R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views of Doherty

Dr Jeffrey Gibson is on record as saying he has no intention of reading any of Doherty’s books but that did not prevent him from pulling out a critical line from Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann’s preface to a publication reissuing Goguel’s rebuttal of mythicism, and placing it in a Wikipedia article.

A “disciple” of Wells, Earl Doherty has rehashed many of the former’s [Wells’] views in The Jesus Puzzle (Age of Reason Publications, 2005) which is qualitatively and academically far inferior to anything so far written on the subject. . .

To call Doherty a “disciple of Wells” who has “rehashed” many of Wells’s ideas actually indicates that Hoffmann has never really read Doherty’s books at all. Maybe Hoffmann was relying on something he read by Eddy and Boyd who in The Jesus Legend very often append Doherty’s name to that of Wells when discussing the argument that Jesus was fiction. But read what Wells says about Eddy and Boyd’s confusion:

Earl Doherty belongs unequivocally in category 1 of Eddy and Boyd’s 3 [categories — category 1 includes those who think Jesus perhaps entirely fiction], and they make it easier for themselves to suggest that my ideas seem at first sight strange by repeatedly grouping me with him, even though they are in fact aware that I differ from him significantly. Doherty argues that, for Paul, the earliest witness, Jesus did not come to Earth at all, that, under the influence of the Platonic view of the universe, salvic events such as his crucifixion were believed to have taken place in a mythical spirit-world setting. I have never espoused this view, not even in my pre-1996 Jesus books, where I did deny Jesus’ historicity. (p. 328 of Cutting Jesus Down to Size by G. A. Wells)

So if Wells finds little in common between his arguments and Doherty’s, what does he say about Doherty’s work?

“In spite of our differences, Mr. Doherty has appraised my work generously, and for my part I regard his book as an important contribution…” (From Wells’ summation of a couple of give-and-take articles appearing in the British magazine “New Humanist” 1999-2000)

And again in Can We Trust the New Testament? G. A. Wells writes of Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle:

In this important book [Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle], the whole of this chapter on these second-century apologists repays careful study. But I find his conclusion too radical . . . (p.202)

Anyone who has followed Wells’ books over the years may well come to the conclusion that it is Wells who has come to rely quite heavily on Doherty in some aspects of the mythicist case — particularly the second-century apologists. As for the work being “academically inferior”, again one wonders if Hoffmann ever did read the same book that . . .

Professor of Religious Studies at Misericordia University, Stevan Davies, read. Davies said of Doherty’s work:

But in going along with Earl I’ve learned more than by going along with anybody else whose ideas I’ve come across anywhere. . . .

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 more? (See Crosstalk #5438 for the full quote)

— Or that Professor of Biblical Criticism with the Council for Secular Humanism’s Center for Inquiry Institute, Robert M. Price, read. Price has the strongest praise for Doherty’s books, especially his recent one in the Youtube video linked at my earlier article on Robert Price’s view.

— Or that Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, Hector Avalos, read. Avalos writes:

Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle outlines a plausible theory for a completely mythical Jesus. (See earlier post Legitimacy of questioning)

Reading Doherty and Wells: the essential difference

Reading mythicist books by G. A. Wells is easy. They are very easy to follow because the arguments are in a very large part a series of dot-point rebuttals to various claims by mainstream historical Jesus scholars. For example, two of his books that R. Joseph Hoffmann says are “worth reading” are Did Jesus Exist? and The Historical Evidence for Jesus.

Their chapter headings give one an idea of Wells’ approach to the question. Each of the subtopics addressed by Wells appears designed to respond to chapter headings one might well find in any mainstream discussion book of New Testament studies. Anyone familiar with the basic outline of how New Testament scholars approach their study of the historical Jesus can see immediate challenges and responses to each of the pre-defined concepts and thought-patterns that are part and parcel of the traditional view of mainstream Jesus scholarship.

From the table of contents in Did Jesus Exist?

Early Christian Epistles


Post-Pauline Letters . . .

Origins and nature of the gospels


The Twelve

and from The Historical Evidence for Jesus:


Non-Pauline epistles earlier than about 90

Epistles of the late first and early second centuries

Synoptic Gospels as post-AD 70 documents . . .

New Testament references to Jesus’ family

Perhaps Hoffmann sees Wells’ work as academically superior because it conforms to the basic way mainstream scholars approach the topic. (Doherty has other views that I provide a link to below.)

Doherty, on the other hand, steps outside of that approach altogether. He has taken a fresh look at the question and his whole approach is unlike that of Wells who breaks the topic up into silos that represent respective chapter headings of a mainstream textbook on Christian origins. Doherty challenges the reader to consider perspectives and relationships among the strands of evidence that are new lines of inquiry altogether.

Contrast Doherty’s presentation with those of Wells above. His Jesus: Neither God Nor Man is divided into four parts:

The Jerusalem Tradition

The Galilean Tradition

A Composite Christianity

The External Evidence

The first of these, the Jerusalem Tradition, is further subdivided into six parts:

Preaching a Divine Son

A Life in Eclipse

The Gospel of the Son

A World of Myth and Savior Gods

Views through the Window in Scripture

A Riotous Diversity

And each of these six parts of this first division subsumes 21 chapters that cover such topics as

  • the philosophical outlooks of the age and how the New Testament writings relate to these contemporary outlooks,
  • popular religious interests among Jews and gentiles and the evidence for the emergence of new and varied religious communities,
  • a detailed critical analysis on the scholarship behind the hypothesis of the Q document,
  • the literary and theological means of expression among Jews of the day and how these methods led to the creation of the gospels,
  • the remaking of Christian story (or history) in the second century and the significance of the early Apologists,
  • as well as a study of the external evidence for Jesus.

He adds 14 appendices that zero in on specialist aside issues such as:

  • the question of interpolations in two NT epistles,
  • the dating of Hebrews,
  • some gnostic gospels and concepts,
  • the significance of texts such as the Didache in the broader context of the above themes,
  • and a lengthy and most incisive analysis on the Josephan references that pales the discussions of any of the mainstream scholars that I have ever read or seen referenced.

One cannot approach Doherty expecting to see neat capsules of this or that pre-packaged topic from a mainstream text on New Testament studies. If one does, one must immediately toss aside those expectations and open oneself to a new exploration of the topic in order to appreciate what he is arguing.

If one does not want to do that, then one will be frustrated and possibly tempted to toss the book out declaring he knows nothing of the way “real scholars” understand and tackle the issues. But Doherty’s extensive bibliography of mainstream and many up to date leading scholarly works will belie that wrongly assumed impression.

And this reminds me of one other common charge against Doherty that has come from mainstream biblical scholars. Some think that he does not engage with modern critical scholarship. His work is, on the contrary, thoroughly woven with responses and appeals to modern critical scholarship. Most instructive in this respect was Doherty’s introduction to an online discussion group for biblical scholars a few years back. The topic of Doherty had come up, and the mainstream academics were nearly unanimous in poo-poohing Doherty’s ideas — despite it being quickly clear that none of them seemed to have any first-hand acquaintance with his works. Doherty himself joined the group to argue his case, and one can see the result from the moment of his introductory email on the Crosstalk list. Doherty has invited scholars such as Jon Dominic Crossan to address his views and critiques of their works. The claim that Doherty is not prepared, or is unable, to defend his argument before the scrutiny of mainstream scholars is simply false.

Doherty does not write in academic jargon but pitches his books for the educated layman. But there is nothing inferior about his insights.

Back to Hoffmann

Of course Hoffmann may still disagree with the estimation of Davies, Price and Avalos and still judge Doherty’s work as academically inferior to that of Wells; and maybe Hoffmann has not even read Eddy and Boyd linking Doherty with Wells; but putting all this together one suspects Doherty just might have a real case when he says of Hoffmann’s published claim:

Anyone who has read The Jesus Puzzle is not likely to interpret me as owing much if anything to Wells, my approach being entirely different, and this in itself would be sufficient to suspect that Hoffmann has in fact not even read my book, and is perhaps relying on certain others’ negative opinions about it. (Doherty on the Demise of the Jesus Project)

I began this section with reference to Jeffrey Gibson. Gibson is one of the least pleasant scholars to have been inflicted on students in real life and to have been let loose in certain internet discussion groups. One can read about Doherty’s exchanges with him here.

The flippant arguments of Stephanie Fisher

Dr Paula Fredriksen is one scholar who did “respond” to something Doherty had written, but her response demonstrated that she at no point attempted to read Doherty’s piece seriously.

I would even compare her responses to those like a naughty schoolgirl who has no interest in the content of the lesson, believing the teacher to be a real dolt, and who accordingly seeks to impress her giggly “know-it-all” classmates by interjecting the teacher with smart-alec rejoinders at any opportunity.

Fredriksen’s responses indicate a stubborn ignoring of the theme and content of Doherty’s argument, and consist of a series of superficial quips on particular phrasings and sentences read without any grasp of their context. Her approach as is if to think the subject was beneath her, and Doherty could not possibly be saying anything new. Her remarks, and Doherty’s responses, can be found here.

In other words, even in making an appearance of addressing Doherty, Fredriksen was really treating the exercise as something of a joke.

I mention this to compare her approach with another emerging scholar. Some may think Fisher’s views of Doherty unworthy of a response, and from one perspective I agree. But I also think it’s not a bad idea to have a response posted to views from someone whom others can view as speaking with some academic authority.

Stephanie Fisher is a doctoral student at the University of Sheffield and on record as an associate of R. Joseph Hoffmann in what was hoped to have been The Jesus Prospect. Her particular interest is in Doherty’s arguments about Q, a focus of her thesis.

Fisher has written that mainstream scholars have not addressed mythicism seriously and has implied that she has attempted to respond to it with more respect as an alternative viewpoint. She has even said that she herself at one point was contemplating the possibility of Jesus being a myth. But on closer questioning, this turns out to be nothing more than a “wondering about the possibility” in the wake of dissatisfaction with arguments of various scholars like Crossan and those of the Jesus Seminar. Her “mythicist” speculations were really nothing more than intuitive feelings and not related to any investigation of the question itself.

So while Fisher may have had more serious intentions than Fredriksen about addressing mythicism, her responses have been no less flippant.

Fisher has said criticized Doherty on the following grounds:

  1. he is not a properly qualified or professional scholar
  2. “depends on all the amateur myth bloggers
  3. is “blindingly ignorant of first-century Judaism
  4. fails to make a detailed study of the synoptic gospels
  5. is ignorant of the most complex secondary literature
  6. does not engage with biblical languages in any comprehensive way
  7. is plain wrong when he writes in his introduction, “someone wrote a story [Mark] about a man who was God”
  8. uses Kloppenborg and secondary literature on Q “uncritically”
  9. takes the existence of Q for granted
  10. treats Q as a documentary source of information even though Q has never existed
  11. has a “truly frightful discussion of James the Lord’s brother

This litany would imply that Fisher must have the lowest possible regard for the professors and doctors Davies, Price and Avalos cited above and who have found Doherty’s works to be rewarding and stimulating reading and that present a plausible case.

Fisher has not, as far as I am aware, publicly supported any of the above accusations with evidence or other reasons for her thinking Doherty is culpable on any of these counts.

To question Q or not to question Q?

Points 9 and 10 demonstrate the flippancy of her views of Doherty’s work. Far from taking the existence of Q for granted, or merely assuming it is a viable document capable of yielding its own evidence, Doherty in fact dedicates a lengthy chapter to an examination and testing of the arguments for the existence of Q.

More than this, however, is that Doherty also raises the arguments used against Q, especially those of Mark Goodacre, and argues them point by point detail before concluding with his reasons for explaining why he believes Q is still the most economical explanation for the “synoptic problem”. And among his remarks concluding this lengthy chapter, we read:

If the above arguments do indeed point to the existence of Q, . . . (p.324)

This does not sound like someone who “takes Q for granted”.

Doherty lays this foundation before ensuing chapters discussing the relevance of Q and the Q community with the Gospels of Thomas and Mark in particular, and with themes found in the Synoptic Gospels in particular.

No-one familiar with Doherty’s work and reading Fisher’s comments would ever suspect Doherty of being so thorough. Fisher is, indeed, bluntly making false assertions about Doherty’s work even though she repeatedly insists she has read his discussion of Q thoroughly. (She seems to have entirely missed the one titled “The Nature and Existence of Q”.)

Fisher’s criticism that Doherty “takes Q for granted” is worrying on other grounds, too. Since Q is a central focus of her doctoral thesis, one has to wonder about the likely quality of the scholarship of the completed work.

Equally unfathomable is Fisher’s contradiction of her points made in 9 and 10 by her point 8 — where she faults Doherty for using what is probably the most complex and detailed argument for Q of all, Kloppenborg.

So on one hand Doherty is accused of taking Q for granted, uncritically, despite an entire chapter by Doherty on the critical arguments for and against Q in which Doherty discusses Kloppenborg’s arguments, and on the other hand she faults him for relying on one of the most comprehensive scholarly arguments ever produced for Q (“uncritically” — despite Doherty’s detailed discussion of Kloppenborg in comparison with other views and his own independent contributions).

One suspects that Fisher’s real problem with Doherty over Q is that he does not agree with her conclusions about Q. It will be interesting to see if her thesis engages in the same depth of review of the arguments one finds in Doherty’s work.

(I might add that I disagree with Doherty’s arguments for Q, but no one can honestly suggest he does not have very good reasons for his belief. A number of people have suggested to Doherty that it would be to the advantage of his case if he dispenses with Q, but Doherty has rejected such a reason for dismissing Q as illegitimate.)

Flippantly, flippantly

Point 7 is a silly flippant remark that no one would take seriously if it did not come from a scholar who claims to speak with some authority on account of her learning and association with reputable academics. Fisher wrote:

Earl Doherty start his introduction ‘someone wrote a story [Mark] about a man who was God’ – but Mark doesn’t! John does. Why does the author make up Jesus suffering in a very human way in Mark and not at all in Luke and John?

Fisher here actually borders on a dishonest representation of Doherty by her omission of the words Doherty really does use to “start his introduction” and that set the tone of the sentence as entirely rhetorical and not in the least intended to be understood as an academic critical claim:

Once upon a time, someone wrote a story about a man who was God.

Fisher’s statement confuses a rhetorical introductory line designed to capture the attention of a reader with a more nuanced discussion of the issues that Doherty certainly does undertake later in his book. Fisher is engaging in pedantry at best, and by omission of the initial “once upon a time” she is creating a false understanding of Doherty’s context and intended meaning. The words she says Doherty uses to start the introduction are not the ones she quoted, and her omission is misleading.

Quite to the contrary of Fisher’s flippant complaint, Doherty does discuss the less than Godlike nature of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark’s compared with that in the Gospel of John, Doherty does make the clear distinction that Fisher accuses him of failing to observe in a rhetorical opening to his Introduction:

It is true that the Gospel of Mark does not portray its Jesus in the elevated fashion of the Christ cult. Indeed, it is sometimes pointed out that Mark’s Jesus is scarcely divine, certainly not overtly so. He is not the Logos of personified Wisdom of the epistles, the emanation and image of God involved in the process of creation. None of these things are present in Mark’s Gospel, and even the soteriology is primitive. . . . (pp. 395-396)

Fisher’s point 2 (that Doherty depends on all the amateur myth bloggers) is simply risible, or, more correctly, ‘contemptible’, and serves only to demonstrate that she does not take Doherty seriously at all. I suspect there are not very many “myth bloggers” who know the first thing about most of what Doherty does address, primarily through engagement with the sources and the mainstream scholarly works about those sources.

On point 3, being “blindingly ignorant of first-century Judaism”, I suspect Fisher means that Doherty does not attempt to re-create early first-century Judaism through very late Rabbinic texts the way Casey and Crossley (sometimes anachronistically) do. Rather, he concentrates on the known literature of the day.

Presumably her objection to Doherty’s failure to make a detailed study of the synoptic gospels (point 4) is based on Doherty’s failure to address the topic through the same memes and concepts as found among other scholars. Doherty certainly addresses their contents and compositions, and comparisons among them, at length and in depth. But he is not playing the same game with the same perceptions that have failed mainstream scholars for generations to come to any agreement on what they tell us about the historical Jesus.

On number 6, I am quite sure Fisher is right when she says Doherty does not engage with the Aramaic language, which is a special interest of hers and her thesis supervisor’s. Doherty would probably “naively” respond that Aramaic, apart from a few words here and there, is not found among the New Testament texts. Of course, Doherty’s whole thesis would invalidate any need to speculate on the existence of now-lost Aramaic sources. Perhaps this is what upsets Fisher the most. Doherty has, by the way, been commended by a scholar such as Professor Davies for showing a commendable knowledge of Greek.

The more things change the more they stay the same

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Albert Schweitzer lamented the tone of the mythicist debate in his day and laid the blame squarely on the mythicists for their arrogance. Today the tone is the same, but the blame is reversed — today it lies squarely on the mainstream historical Jesus scholars for their arrogance and their unprofessional and ignorant accusations against Earl Doherty in particular.

Schweitzer also praised the few voices that did speak up for reason and civility, and I have mentioned some of the present day voiced who have done the same on Doherty’s behalf today. Fisher has said that Maurice Casey, who I understand is her thesis supervisor, plans to publish a book in a couple of years that will address mythicism, including the arguments of Doherty. I am not holding my breath in anticipation of anything as serious as Schweitzer’s own reviews of the mythicists of his day. Few can ever quickly appreciate the possibility of learning that everything they have been working has been built on a false assumption.

As Professor Stevan Davies also wrote in the post I partly quoted above,

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 Jesus the Healer gave a new paradigm rather than just another view on the subject, but no. Earl’s is what a new paradigm looks like. . . . 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 . . . . by various people.


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63 thoughts on “How and Why Scholars Fail to Rebut Earl Doherty”

  1. I know this is petty, but the reason that mainstream NT scholarship reacts as they do is simply because the benefactors will likely not fund the study of a particular myth to the extent where such study could continue as a seperate field of endeavor within acedemia.

    Job protection, pure and simple. of course, if it was my job, I can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same.

  2. You have mispresented me again, though I am in good company – your comparison of Paula Fredriksen to a ‘naughty schoolgirl’ is typical of the rudeness and the rejection of critical scholarship which you share with other mythicists.

    1.I am a doctoral student, but not at the University of Sheffield. When I was still in New Zealand, they did offer me a scholarship, but I have come to study at the University of Nottingham. I am working with Joseph Hoffmann on The Jesus Prospect. This is not the American Jesus Project, of which he was once chairperson, and which has now folded up. These petty inaccuracies, which I have previously corrected on your blog, set the scene for your many mistakes.

    2.I have made no claim to have fully addressed the mythicist case on your blog. On the contrary, I have repeatedly said that it requires a whole book from an independent scholar. This is why I have drawn the attention of a few scholars to your blog. This is also the reason why one of the few points you have got right is that Maurice Casey has begun work on a book which we hope will appear in about two years time. I expect that your custom of being rude and uncomprehending about his learned scholarship will continue. I have made only a few brief comments on main points, and referred forward to his book for a complete argument.

    3.I have certainly claimed that Doherty is not a properly qualified scholar. He has no doctorate, and shows no signs of being able to read original sources in Hebrew or Aramaic, let alone the more exotic languages in which some of the sources for Second Temple Judaism survive. This is a major fault.

    4.You have missed the point about Doherty and bloggers. Doherty says that the “advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented ‘lay’ element of scholarship to the field”, and he says of The Jesus Puzzle that its “primary purpose” was to reach “the open-minded ‘lay’ audience” (Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 1-2). I cannot see that his audience is in the least “open-minded”, and bloggers to whom he appeals include (pp. 571, 771, n.219) Steven Carr, who is as rude and determinedly ignorant as any blogger whose comments I have come across. I cannot access the site referred to.

    5.You replace my comment on Doherty being “blindingly ignorant of Second Temple Judaism”, which I meant, with another piece of creative fiction, according to which I mean only that “Doherty does not attempt to recreate early first century Judaism through very late Rabbinic sources the way Casey and Crossley (sometimes anachronistically) do.” It is true that Doherty is not learned enough to reconstruct the (largely oral) culture of first century Judaism from earlier and later written sources, many of which he is not learned enough to read in the first place. It is however also important that he cannot read e.g. the Dead Sea Scrolls in their original languages, and I do not recall him showing proper knowledge of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha either, though the absence of a scholarly index of primary sources makes that difficult to double check. His references to the Dead Sea Scrolls in the index produces only 11Q Melchizedek and a reference to 2 Enoch (p.229), where he refers to only a Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews for his views of both, giving opinions which fit his frame of reference and surely required more defence: p. 532, correctly quoting Meier claiming that there is no reference to Jesus in the scrolls, as all mainstream scholars have known for a long time, but offers no excuse for his failure to offer adequate discussion of Second Temple Judaism, of which they provide fundamental evidence: and p.219 n.25, which makes only basic general comments on the Scrolls, 1 Enoch and IV Ezra providing apocalyptic eschatology, as indeed they do. Why he thinks this “comes to a climax in the Gospels and Revelation” and not in Paul as well appears to be due to his strange views of Paul. More extensive references to e.g. 1 Enoch include a number of confidently stated opinions on e.g. the use of the term “Son of Man” which fit his frame of reference but which he does not properly defend (e.g. pp. 182-3).

    6.My objection to the fact that “mythers such as Doherty continue to produce work which demonstrates… lack of detailed study of the synoptic Gospels” was not a comment on the length of Doherty’s book, but on the fact that he has not done the necessary detailed scholarly work. For example, his importation of “allegory” into Mark (e.g. pp.397f) shows a total lack of awareness of most scholarly discussion of the real cultural background of Mark, and his decision that Simon of Cyrene was an invention by Mark does not even discuss the ossuary with an inscription ‘Alexander (son of) Simon’ in Greek on the front and back, and perhaps ‘Alexander the Cyrenian’ in Hebrew, and which is in any case found among ossuaries which have names more characteristic of Jews from Cyrene than from Jerusalem. It is not a sufficient defence of his lack of scholarship to say merely that “he is not playing the same game” etc.

    7.You accuse me of “a silly flippant remark” bordering on “a dishonest representation of Doherty” because of your fundamentalist assumption that when I quoted his shocking opening, which says that “someone”, meaning Mark “wrote a story about a man who was God” (p.1), which Mark did not do, I should have quoted “Once upon a time” as well. This misses the point completely. Doherty’s opening is false and effectively permeates his book, in that his argument seriously depends on the later Christian view of Jesus as a both God and man. Otherwise the way is clear for critical scholars to argue, as so many have done, that the real historical Jesus can be found by careful study of the earliest sources used by the synoptic evangelists. It is no defence of Doherty’s opening sentence to say that it is “entirely rhetorical”, and your quotation from his pp. 395-6 points to a significant weakness in his argument. He just about recognises what he should have taken more seriously.
    8.Your declaration that my points 9 and 10, in criticising his work on “Q” “demonstrate the flippancy of her views of Doherty’s work” assumes your own unscholarly attitude, in that you cannot see the difference between his comments and a properly critical discussion. For example, the opening pages of ch 8 simply summarise the common view that there was a single Greek document, and Doherty proceeds at once to its “layers”, without sufficient critical consideration of whether it ever existed. You say that he “also raises the arguments against Q, especially those of Mark Goodacre”, which he does discuss to some extent. He does not however discuss the more chaotic hypotheses proposed notably by Barrett in a short article in 1942, used by scholars such as Black who could also read Aramaic, as Kloppenborg and Doherty show no signs of being able to do, and favoured by several scholars whom I have met at conferences. This is what Casey carried further in his 2002 book, which Doherty cannot and does not discuss. I do not call that a properly critical discussion. If there is something wrong with a chaotic hypothesis, we should be told what. Doherty’s partial discussion does not properly engage with anything like this. Your declaration that I “seem to have entirely missed” the whole chapter is typical of your refusal to take seriously either my brief comments or learned scholarship which you do not like.

    Of course Doherty does not engage with the Aramaic language, which is, but is not merely, “a specially interest of hers and her thesis supervisor’s”. For example, Wellhausen proposed more than a century ago that at Matt 23:26, κάθαρισον was a correct translation of the Aramaic dakkau (reinigt), whereas in the parallel passage Luke 11:41, δότε ἐλεημοσύνην resulted from misreading dakkau as zakkau. This was often repeated by several different scholars, before Casey adopted it when he reconstructed and interpreted the whole passage Matt 23:23-36//Luke 11:39-51 in his 2002 monograph. It is not consistent with the model of either Kloppenborg or Goodacre, and Doherty does not discuss any work of that kind. The opinion that Jesus spoke Aramaic is of course widespread. Doherty has a strange comment on Aramaic at p. 722 n.38, which suggests he does not realise the extent to which Second Temple Judaism was an oral culture, nor how material could be transmitted in writing e.g. on wax tablets rather than in completed Gospels.

    I shall not discuss Doherty in my doctoral thesis, because his work is not learned enough for a thesis on anything except mythicists, of whom he is a lengthy specimen. I have of course discussed Kloppenborg and Goodacre at length. I am leaving the mythicists to Casey’s forthcoming book. I note you already believe it is based on a false assumption before you have seen it, a view typical of your grossly unscholarly bias. Can you not imagine that he even might discuss what you suppose are his assumptions?

    9.Important scholarly works about Jesus which do not make it to Doherty’s bibliography include Dunn, Jesus Remembered; Meier, Marginal Jew (vols 2 onwards, vol. 1 is his introduction!); Sanders, Jesus and Judaism; and Vermes, Jesus the Jew. Mainstream scholars who have written significant articles, books or essays about Jesus and his background in Judaism, and who are not mentioned in his bibliography at all, include Becker, Chilton, Evans, Freyne, Gnilka, Hengel and Theissen. This is just a brief indication of his lack of learning.

    I will not respond to any more abusive or hobbyhorse commenters.

    1. And Irishanglican wants me to take Steph seriously!

      Steph slanders Doherty with this sentence:

      Doherty of course depends on all the amateur myth bloggers and Maurice Casey will be responding to all ‘mythers’ in a book devoted to ‘mythicists’ and their background and mistakes intended for publication in a couple of years.

      And when pressed for evidence cites one name and one reference that appears in an 800 page book. And then protests that I have missed her point. She then presumably explains her point, but her explanation means something entirely different from her original words: “Doherty of course depends on all the amateur myth bloggers”.

      This is one example of Steph saying one thing, and then when pressed changes her original statement or words into something else with a different meaning. This is sloppy communication and a dishonest shifting of the goal-posts, and demonstrates what I have tried to point out to Steph twice — that she writes emotively without thinking about what she is saying and also without reading properly what she is responding to. This is bad enough, but she bring with her sloppiness the claim that she is a doctoral student, and accuses me of misrepresenting her because I took her first words seriously with their literal meanings. No apology for mis-stating or overstating what she meant the first time. Only abuse, and a claim that she really said or meant something that she did not say at all!

      Steph lacks the honesty to own up to what she writes, and makes excuses and blames readers when called to account for the words she tosses out so flippantly.

      And this is a sample of our upcoming intellegentsia?

        1. 9.Important scholarly works about Jesus which do not make it to Doherty’s bibliography include Dunn, Jesus Remembered; Meier, Marginal Jew (vols 2 onwards, vol. 1 is his introduction!); Sanders, Jesus and Judaism; and Vermes, Jesus the Jew. Mainstream scholars who have written significant articles, books or essays about Jesus and his background in Judaism, and who are not mentioned in his bibliography at all, include Becker, Chilton, Evans, Freyne, Gnilka, Hengel and Theissen. This is just a brief indication of his lack of learning.

          I would be amused to know which of these books did not make it into Carrier’s bibliography and if steph still considers it “a brief indication of his lack of learning”.

    2. And Irishanglican wants me to take Steph seriously!

      I may respond as time permits to specific points that Steph makes here. In this comment, let me address some of her point #8.

      The way Steph describes Doherty’s opening pages of chapter 8 will completely mystify anyone who has a copy of Doherty’s book
      in hand and who attempts to find where Doherty does what Steph says he does. In the opening pages of chapter 8 Doherty is discussing a range of sources, and on the second page of the chapter he includes Q as one of several documents in which a particular concept about an “end time agent of God” appears. He then later mentions his belief that “the Q community” developed a certain belief and that was passed on to others, etc — and explains that this is something he will proceed to argue at a later time — “as we shall see”, are his words.

      So Steph continues to expose her shallow surface-response to Doherty — let’s call it flippant — and writes outright faleshoods about what Doherty in fact says. The opening pages of chapter 8 do not contain a summary of “the common view that there was a single Greek document, and Doherty proceeds at once to its “layers”, without sufficient critical consideration of whether it ever existed”. This is simply false.

      If, however, Steph really meant “Part 8” of the book which does discuss Q and not, as she wrote, “ch 8”, then she is even more culpable of misrepresentation. In all of Steph’s lengthy complaint about what I said of her treatment of Doherty and Q, she does not once mention my central point — Doherty’s chapter 22.

      Doherty argues his case critically and in depth in dialogue with major scholarship in the question of Q, and concludes, as I said, with the remark that his following chapters will depend on his chapter 22 — and, as I said in my post, concedes that one must accept the argument of chapter 21 for the following chapters in this section to be persuasive.

      Steph repeats her totally false allegation that Doherty is “without sufficient critical consideration of whether [Q] ever existed”.

      Given that I pointed out the evidence for her original false allegation in this respect, and her repeating her allegation here again despite being shown the evidence that it is false, and her apparent deliberate refusal to even mention this evidence in this comment here, (apart from a concession he at least addresses Goodacre) one must accept that Steph is quite prepared to lie to support her false accusations against Doherty.

      Instead, Steph excoriates Doherty for not addressing a “small” “1942” Barrett article used by Black.

      Here is what Casey says of Black’s contribution to Q scholarship:

      “It is all the more regrettable that Black was not able to make a significant positive contribution to the study of Q. . . . Black was moreover in no position to produce the much needed revolution in Q studies . . . . ” (page 10 of Casey’s An Aramaic Approach to Q).

      And so in Steph’s eyes, even though Doherty is probably far more familiar with Kloppenborg than she is, she heaps scorn on him for his failure to discuss a 1942 article (I think, actually, it was published in the Expository Times in 1943) that even Casey seems to indirectly imply made no significant contribution to the study of Q. Because of Doherty’s failure to address this article Steph feels justified in accusing Doherty of assuming the existence of Q without serious or sufficient critical review of Q’s existence.

      Steph is learning well how to fit in with the likes of Gibson and Fredriksen and McGrath and their dishonest treatment of Doherty’s work, not to mention their unscholarly insulting and abusive manner.

    3. I think my posts to Steph and Irishanglican cover all there is to cover by way of response to Steph’s response to my post. I had thought I would need some time to address each of her points, but I see on re-reading that most of her complaint about Doherty is, as Steven Carr points out, that Doherty does not discuss the things she things should be discussed. It matters not that those things do not mention Christianity or are languages in which none of the earliest documents relating to Christianity were written.

      (On this latter point, it is a little amusing that such strident opposition to any suggestion of Q as a hypothetical document is expressed while at the same time there is dogmatic insistence that there really was a series of other documents, probably on small wax tablets since the pericopes in Mark are short and wax does not survive long, in Aramaic. Reminds me of the war between the little enders and the big enders in Swift’s Gullivers Travels.)

      I think this supports my point — and that of Stevan Davies — that it is easier for a two humped Bactrian camel to be threaded through a No. 10 sized sewing needle that it is for scholars to seriously contemplate a new paradigm.

  3. It would appear that mythicists will not have any effect on this generation of NT scholars. Apparently, even if Doherty had a PhD from a “correct” school, he still wouldn’t be credible since he can’t read Aramaic, Hebrew, “let alone the more exotic languages in which some of the sources for Second Temple Judaism survive.” And even in the unlikely event that he could somehow overcome this “major fault,” he still hasn’t demonstrated the ability to address every single counter argument that might arise from the relevant literature of the past century and a half.

    Still, I’m not sure why steph goes to all this trouble when simple “Tut-tut” or “Pooh-pooh” would do. But then, I merely read the “learned scholarship”; I can’t for a moment really *understand* it. Now excuse me while I retire to my armchair.

    1. If a scholarly giant like Thompson who must share a large measure of responsibility for overturning the Albrightian pillar on which Old Testament studies once depended is poo-poohed when he publishes a book that places Jesus in the same mythical tradition as David and Abraham, what hope does anyone like Doherty have?

  4. One thing I have learned about Stephanie Fisher, she is certainly not “flippant”! The blog is often a hard place to express our deepest thoughts. But she has personal integrity, I have noted that in her discussions, always! You may disagree with her, I know I have, and her with me. But she is always a gamer!

    1. What actual evidence has Steph ever given in defence of her arguments? Just look at the first line of her protest in her comment below. I address Paula Fredriksen’s flippant responses to Doherty and this, she says, is “typical” of my “rejection of critical scholarship”. I have addressed one aspect of Fredriksen’s scholarship in a post not long ago, and demonstrated the circularity of its assumptions. Steph has no answer to that. Instead, when I point out rudeness of a scholar who refuses to engage a mythicist argument seriously and does not even make a scholarly argument, Steph says that my complaint is “typical” of “rejection of critical scholarship”.

      Presumably in Steph’s eyes I should treat Fredriksen’s lack of seriousness as if it were an example of serious critical scholarship.

      When I do expose the fallacies and circularities of critical scholarship, Steph says she cannot tell me where or how I misrepresented the scholars concerned, but that I certainly have, but it would take a whole book to tell me where I have. That is simply nonsense. Any teacher can point out where a misrepresentation occurs in a few sentences if there is any misrepresentation at all. Steph has no defence at all so resorts to rudeness, and even outright falsehoods at times. Can you imagine any teacher in any situation telling a student that no, they have misunderstood or misrepresented X, but sorry, it is impossible to inform the student or their peers where they are wrong, but that they should wait a couple of years until the appropriate book is published that will show them their errors.

      And you say she is not flippant?

    2. Look again at Point 1 of Steph’s reply where she complains that I inaccurately associated her with the “American Jesus Project” instead of Hoffmann’s Jesus Prospect.

      Then look at my post again. You will see I made no such mistake. Her complaint about me is the misrepresentation. She simply does not read what she says she reads. She only skims. And when I catch her out in this she lies and laughs it off as unimportant.

  5. STEPH
    .Important scholarly works about Jesus which do not make it to Doherty’s bibliography…

    Wells once listed the 6 or 7 ways NT scholars avoid answering arguments.

    One of them was how NT scholars utter ridiculous things like dismissing a work because it does not mention books X,Y and Z.

    This tactic never fails because no book can mention all other books in its bibliography, and no author can read every book written on the subject.

    This tactic of complaining that an author does not mention books X,Y and Z is a sure sign that the critic is scraping the barrel, and is resorting to ludicrous (non) arguments.

    The opinion that Jesus spoke Aramaic is of course widespread.


    Hitler spoke German. Does that make the Hitler diaries authentic?

    There is not one single Aramaic document written by Christians in the first century AD.

    Steph’s arguments against Doherty are ridiculous in the extreme.

    She castigates him for not knowing a language that NO CHRISTIAN IN THE FIRST CENTURY EVER WROTE IN.

  6. I should add, apart from a few words of Aramaic here and there.

    Almost always translated for the benefit of first-century Christians.

    I am pleased that Doherty mentions me.

    Steph, of course, can only resort to calling me names.

    Abuse, majoring on minors, claiming the ability to read documents nobody has ever seen or heard of….

    Is there any actual argument coming from Steph – any actual rebuttal of any major point of Doherty?

    Of course not.

    Just like she can read Aramaic documents nobody can see, she is now claiming Doherty is refuted in a book that has not been written.

    1. It is also of passing interest to compare the scorn poured on Doherty over his extensive discussions of Q, yet the same scholar accepts she is good company with Fredriksen whose book on Jesus merely repeats the standard summary one paragraph reason scholars accept Q, and then proceeds to use Q in support of her case. One begins to suspect there is a double standard at work here, does one not?

  7. STEPH
    and his decision that Simon of Cyrene was an invention by Mark does not even discuss the ossuary with an inscription ‘Alexander (son of) Simon’ in Greek on the front and back, and perhaps ‘Alexander the Cyrenian’ in Hebrew, and which is in any case found among ossuaries which have names more characteristic of Jews from Cyrene than from Jerusalem.

    If Steph claims that ‘Harry Potter’ is invented by JK Rowling, a quick Google search will reveal that there are lots of people called ‘Harry Potter’….

    I have even attended a talk by Harry Potter.

    I cannot believe how ludicrous Steph’s arguments are!

    Somebody is not fictional if , wait for it, there is a grave with the same name on it.

    Yes, and Harry Potter is alive and well, and speaking at discussion groups in England.

    This ‘argument’ of Steph reveals the utter lack of seriousness of Independent Biblical Scholars.

    Her argument really is mind-bogglingly bad, as bad as her claim that if Jesus spoke Aramaic, then any traces of Aramaic in the Gospels stand a chance of being authentic.

  8. Mythicists should not have any effect on NT scholars. Their suppositions are not historical, nor even theological. But then I am something of a conservative and traditional Christian theolog myself. And my presuppositions are historical to the classic doctrine of the Incarnation and the Judeo-Christian Scripture, rather than the idea of the historical Jesus, itself. And I believe in a “real” Saul/Paul of Tarsus (Acts 9:11), of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5); He was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25). He spent much of his life in Jerusalem as a student of Gamaliel, the/a rabbi (Acts 22:3). And like his father before him, Paul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), a member of the strictest Jewish sect, (Phil.3:5).

    But Steph has spoken well to her position. Now its Neil’s turn. I am just listening. But hardly from my “armchair”.

    1. What is a “historical supposition”? I have already shown in a recent post that Doherty approaches the whole question of Christian origins the way nonbiblical historians generally approach an historical inquiry. They — as does Doherty — begin with the evidence we have and seek to explain it within its contemporary context. Biblical scholars, on the other hand, generally take but one subset of that evidence, assume its narrative has roots in an historical event despite any supporting evidence for such an assumption, and despite the fanciful tone that dominates it, and then proceed to build up a case that rests entirely on all the other assumptions that must accompany that view of historicity. Doherty is an outsider to the biblical academy but his approach shows far more historical nous than any historical Jesus scholar I have ever read.

      Recall Associate Professor James McGrath floundering and saying he would ask nonbiblical historians how they do history, and coming back and announcing that one of those historians says “history is an art”. I was embarrassed for the guy. That saying is basic to the name who is renowned as the “father of modern history” — even in America. It demonstrated how totally out of touch biblical historians at the professorial level in the U.S. are about the very history and nature of what they profess to practice.

      Biblical historians have no idea of how history is done outside their own guild, as far as I have been able to determine — apart from those who have woken up to the changes and methods discussed among Old Testament studies.

    2. “Their suppositions are not historical, nor even theological.”

      I think that’s the point, isn’t it? NT studies in university are *supposed* to be unbiased like all other fields are *supposed* to be unbiased. And if they were unbiased then the mythical view would get some discussion.

      We’re not all Calvinist idiots who believe we are being controlled by a malevolent deity and have no free will, irish. Of course this makes you quite inconsistent because you ought to acknowledge that according to your own idiotic theology everyone’s suppositions are forced on them by your demon god, so how can you find fault with that? Only in the same unjust way that the Satan you worship can find fault with what he forced people to do. But of course I don’t believe he really is in control. You do, and therefore you prove yourself to be an inconsistent dunce. Please stop post a billion comments on each entry.

      1. rey,

        It seems Neil has a very liberal posting view, he allows you also. Post on mate, as will I also! “Think” rey, “think”, I know it is often hard for some.

      2. Irishanglican, yes, I have had a “very liberal posting view”, one that “allows you also”. I am quite prepared to allow attacks on me and my posts. I can scarcely be considered a neutral moderator if I wanted it any other way, and I think some offensive remarks serve to demonstrate the ilk of those who do disagree. Sometimes, fortunately they are the exceptions rather than the rule, someone does make an offensive remark about another commenter. I don’t like it, but till now it is, fortunately, rare.

        But I have put a handful of commenters on my spam list, and they are those who demonstrated over a series of posts that they came here only to preach, convert or take over every post and comments to turn them into a forum for their own single-minded agenda.

        You are welcome to engage in dialogue with the posts and comments made here. But to repetitively pronounce that other comments are coming from the wrong perspective, and that they should be following your agenda, is not appropriate in this space.

      3. Neil,

        Well I have spent a few days (when I could) looking and reading about your “mythicist” position. I have also shared some of my positions, but not once has anyone engaged in my defense of the “presupposional” of the Holy Scripture! I did send you something by Greg Bahsen, but with again no response? I think it is time for this old Irishman to pull the plug. Thanks for a bit of your time, however.

        Fr. Robert

  9. History is the reconstruction of past events based on the critical study of primary sources, informed by secondary sources, archaeological data, anthropological theory, and reasoned judgments of plausibility.

    The NT-studies/Historical Jesus guild conveniently omits the first step.

    1. Touche! So if there are no primary sources (in the sense of sources physically contemporaneous with the events) then one would think attempting history is a bit of a risky business. No ancient historian wastes time trying to “reconstruct” the “historical Socrates”. It is enough that Socrates, whether historical or a literary construct only, represents a certain development in the history of philosophy. But when faith or a cornerstone cultural icon is at stake, the rules have to be changed. Circles can, after all, be squared.

    1. C.J.

      Cannot you see, that I argue not from mere evidence, evidentially, but from the presuppositional, i.e. the Biblical Text or Revelation. In reality, the Christian has no other! In the final sense. Yes, evidential has a place, but not the foremost or final position.

  10. Perhaps this is helpful for those still with open, honest minds?


    See also the book by Michael James McClymond, Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to the Jesus of Nazareth (Eerdmanns 2004). Still a worthy read.

    As too, Michael Grant’s older now work – Jesus: An Historians Review of the Gospels (Scrb. 1995)

  11. I stand by my comment on Doherty, when I was able to explain what I meant: Doherty says that the “advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented ‘lay’ element of scholarship to the field”, and he says of The Jesus Puzzle that its “primary purpose” was to reach “the open-minded ‘lay’ audience” (Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 1-2). I cannot see that his audience is in the least “open-minded”, and bloggers to whom he appeals include (pp. 571, 771, n.219) Steven Carr, who is as rude and determinedly ignorant as any blogger whose comments I have come across.

    I do not appreciate your fundamentalist assumption that no-one should explain what they mean in words different from the ones they first use: this is what people usually do when they have been misunderstood, whether accidentally or on purpose. I do not in fact seem to have the precise words which you attributed to me, but explaining what I mean is not the same as “meaning something entirely different”. Your malicious comments on Paula Fredriksen demonstrate nothing, and your analogy of a teacher is no better than comparing Fredriksen to a “naughty schoolgirl” or mainstream scholars to “silly detectives”.

    I am sorry that “ch 8” was a typo for “ch 22” in my section 8, responding to your comments on my previous point 8, and astonished that this was not obvious, as I discussed briefly Doherty’s arguments in chs 22-23. In all other respects I stand by my comments. The opening pages of chs 22 (pp. 307, 310-311) repeat a standard view of the so-called “Q” document, and pp. 311-2 follow Kloppenborg in layering it. Doherty does then discuss the existence of “Q”, but as I pointed out, he dialogues with Mark Goodacre but not with anything like what I call a “chaotic” hypothesis. I referred to Barrett’s article in Expository Times 54 (1942-3), pp. 320-3, which is important because it was a clear statement of what I call a “chaotic hypothesis”, as one would expect from such a clear-headed mainstream scholar. You have misrepresented Casey’s comments on Black’s book, not least because he was referring to the limited possibilities of what Black could achieve in a 1946 book, not for example his article in JSNT 40 (1990), which takes for granted a chaotic hypothesis.

    Similarly, you misrepresent both me and the limited scope of Doherty’s discussion by taking no notice of the fact that Doherty “cannot and does not discuss” Casey’s 2002 book, which like many important works of scholarship, does not even make it to his bibliography, a significant indicator of Doherty’s lack of learning. Equally, you do not note the fact that many mainstream biblical scholars, whom you hold in such unscholarly contempt, do not believe in either of the two models for “Q” which he discusses briefly, but are not publishing on this subject. It is an exceptionally difficult problem for anyone who really is “open-minded”, and who has reasons for being sceptical about aspects of the work of Kloppenborg, Goodacre and other scholars who have published books on similar lines, or who write articles disagreeing with individual points without arguing for a paradigm shift.

    Your description of me as “prepared to lie” is false, and typical of the abuse which you pour on decent biblical scholars who have not left fundamentalist Christianity and become fundamentalist atheists. Your view that I am not as familiar with Kloppenborg’s work as Doherty is quite ridiculous. I have been interacting with both his books and his articles for some years, and was delighted to take part in helpful discussions with him at the Oxford Conference on the Synoptic Problem in April, 2008. I was also able to talk with Goodacre and other scholars who are currently working on the Double Tradition: there was much disagreement, and no abuse whatever between scholars who did not agree with each other. This is what normally happens in academia. Scholars disagree all the time and are able to have fruitful discussions. I have had many continuing discussions with Goodacre and others.

    It is regrettable that when challenged you continue to react like a fundamentalist who somehow “knows the truth”, and consequently imagines that anyone who disagrees with him is ignorant and cannot see the light. This is evident again in your abusive analogy according to which “it is easier for a two humped Bactrian camel to be threaded through a No. 10 sized needle that (sic! your typo this time) it is for scholars to seriously contemplate a new paradigm”. This is not true of proper critical scholars, though it is of course true of fundamentalists. More to the point, what you are really complaining about is that decent New Testament scholars will not become mythicists at the behest of “scholars”(??) like Doherty and bloggers like you. As I have often said before, everything wrong with mythicists will require a book.

    For some 6 years or so I was a member of the discussion group JesusMysteries. I stopped receiving emails shortly after coming to England. This is what first introduced me to the arguments of Price, Doherty, Detering and others. I had fruitful discussions with Michael Turton among others. It was some time before I came to the conclusion that they are quite wrong. Your simplistic assertion that ‘Her “mythicist” speculations were really nothing more than intuitive feelings and not related to any investigation of the question itself’ is typical of your mischaracterisation of me and ignoring that I had read earlier studies on the historicity of Jesus eg Wells.

    Neil repeats the error in his post (which he fails to acknowledge in his comment about the Jesus Prospect) claiming I was at Sheffield university despite the fact I have more than once corrected that error in previous comments. In the same sentence he states it is on record that I am an associate of Hoffmann in “what was hoped” – past tense – “to have been The Jesus Prospect”. As I had previously corrected statements about the Jesus Project, explaining that it was now defunct, it appears Neil has placed the Jesus Prospect in the past as well.

    Accusing me falsely of lies and skimming and ‘resorting to abuse’ and changing my statements, as you so often do, is not just silly and inaccurate Neil, it’s ‘slander’. And accusing me of slandering Doherty for saying he relies on bloggers, is also silly. Mine was a perfectly reasonable conclusion that they are his major audience, based on his references to the internet and the lay element involved there as well as Carr.

    You continually ignore the fact I have made no claim to have fully addressed Doherty’s case on your blog or my statements I did not intend to do so and do not have time. Instead you attempt to summarise my main “complaint” about Doherty in a completely misleading way. On the contrary, I have repeatedly said that it requires a whole book from an independent scholar and that is coming from Casey. I have only addressed a few major points to indicate a major flaw – that is, while many scholars in this area can read primary sources like the DSSs and rabbinic material in their original languages, Doherty’s inability to read these is the tip of an iceberg whereby he doesn’t understand second temple Judaism, the context of Jesus the Jew in which without coincidence so many traditions fit. Your attempt to summarise my main complaint about Doherty is misleading and misses the point that I never claimed to have presented a full argument at all. Your continuing rudeness to me and about other scholars is demonstrated in your silly analogy with a camel and a needle, not to forget the ‘silly detectives’.

    I’m afraid that while I’ve wasted my time here (although it’s been interesting material for how ‘mythmakers’ think) I don’t think you’ll find serious scholars responding to your rhetorical claims and abuse.

    1. Steph, James McGrath also says that he is capable of civil discourse (I’m sure he has many hidden talents he chooses not to show when discussing mythicism) and I quite believe that he and you are the most civil when engaging your peers. That is why I have not been patient with your (and his) insulting manner in which you both have discussed those espousing the mythicist view, or who dare to question and expose the logical fallacies underpinning mainstream historical Jesus studies.

      My sharpest comments have been for those intellectuals who I perceive as failing in their public accountability to further tolerance and intellectual honesty. I have no difficulty at all with scholars who espouse mainstream views and reject mythicism, but I do sometimes decide to speak out if I see them lying or otherwise being simply dishonest with a third party — especially one I consider a friend, even though I disagree with some of his views myself.

      Your complaints about me are straw men. I have never criticized you for not answering the whole of Doherty’s ideas. Once again, and elsewhere in your response, you rewrite what you originally said and shift the goal posts.

      Of course we can all express things in a way we don’t mean and need to explain them more fully afterwards. But your statements that I have taken difficulty with are not like that, and you are a doctoral student, and I do expect that when you use a word like “culture” or “Judaism” you mean “culture” or “Judaism”. You DO change your meanings significantly to say something quite different, and do far more than just clarify an initial ambiguous point. I twice tried to alert you to this in good faith. But your response has been to justify yourself and heap abuse on me.

      I note that you think I have lumped you in good company by reference to Paula Fredriksen. I also note that Fredriksen in her book on the historical Jesus “assumes” Q with nothing more than a short summary of the reasons most scholars have accepted it, and proceeds to use it as evidence. Not one word of Barrett’s article. Yet you excoriate Doherty.

      I also note that Fredriksen opens up her introduction with a sentence to the effect that Christianity has “always been interested in the historical Jesus.” But that is not true — it is a rhetorical flourish. A history of the views of Jesus shows that the historical Jesus himself has not been the consistent interest of the church. But Fredriksen can be excused for making rhetorical openers that are not intended to be literal encyclopedic facts because she is a “real scholar”, presumably.


      I have never asked you to respond to all of Doherty’s thesis. I have challenged you on very specific points both on Doherty and what I have said, and you generally respond saying you would need a book to explain it.

      Can you imagine a student getting something wrong in a test, being failed, and when asking why he was failed, the teacher telling him, “It would take a book to explain why you got it wrong. Wait 2 years till one is published and then you will know what is wrong with your answer.”

  12. Another thought line here, and most important for the again honest heart & mind, is the NT history and writings of Paul the Apostle! How can one not seek to deal with this hard Jew turned to become the greatest Jewish-Christian theolog? Indeed as we see with Schweitzer, and his work: ‘The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle’ (1931). We should also remember that his, ‘The Quest of the Historical Jesus’, was written in 1906!

  13. Neil, I think you might get a more impartial hearing for your case if you would hold back on the ad hominems against McGrath, Casey, Crossley, Fredriksen, Gibson, Hoffman, Steph, etc. You seem to accuse your critics of covert apologetics or not being able to free themselves from the Christian myth (interesting that this list, besides McGrath, are secular or Jewish scholars, as the huge majority of Jewish or secular biblical scholars agree on the question of historicity), though you don’t acknowledge that your own faith journey from evangelicalism to atheism includeing Doherty’s influence (please correct me if wrong, I take this from: http://ironwolf.dangerousgames.com/exwcg/archives/4 might have an impact on the way you view the matter (that does not mean you are wrong and they are right, only that everyone has presuppositions when they talk about Jesus as an icon in western civilization). Rigorous debate and challenging consensus is important in the humanities to advance knowledge and to establish a new paradigm as you say, but I wish you would at least acknowledge that your debating opponents have also spent years immersing themselves in early Jewish and Christian literature of the first few centuries in their original languages and may not be so ignorant of historical methods as you imply. Apart from the small handful of trained biblical scholars such as Price (though he is more agnostic on the historcity issue), Thompson or Harpur, can you provide a short bibliography of PhD trained secular historians outside the guild who have made a significant case for the mythicist position or have taken the field of biblical studies to task for the whole historical Jesus enterprise (maybe Wells, a professor of German, though even he moved to accepting a basic historical figure)? I cross listed in a graduate seminar in the history of historiography in a regular secular history department and I think there is much more methodological diversity than your select quotations of Hobsbawm et al insist (see for instance Peter Novick’s “That Noble Dream: the Objectivity Question and the American Historical Profession” which traces the rise of the ideal of objectivity based on influence from figures like Leopold von Ranke to finally the bewildering variety of methodological approaches in which the author rejoices “there is no king in Israel”). Your argument about “external controls” only works if one decides in advance that the evidence from Josephus (which I know you argue that both the Testimonium Flavianum and the much more reserved passage on the death of James the brother of the so-called Christ is inauthentic) and Tacitus is irrelevent, but surely there is at least room for debate on this without accusing anyone of apologetics on either side. And given that Jesus was not a major politician or Greco-Roman philosopher, but a village peasant who got shamefully crucified and had a measly following that was a blip on the radar (see the correspondence of Pliny and Trajan ca 110 CE, who still doesn’t really know who “Christians” are and how to deal with them), it is hardly suprising that the only references to Jesus are the various Jesus groups in the first century who vigorously battle over interpretations of the Jesus story (Jerusalem Pillars, Stephen and the Hellenists, Paul, Q, Mark, Johannine) yet all seem to agree that a a recent historical figure who has been exalted in some way stands behind it – docetism seems to be a late first century (if behind the Johannine epistles)/second century development. If such rigorous standards were applied across the board, apart from major political/philisophical figures how much ancient history would survive given it mostly comes from single sources in more fragmentary forms and later in time from their subjects that the first gospels are to Jesus. For instance, as a honest question, do you think that the Teacher of Righteousness as the alleged founder of the Qumran sect is also mythical, given that there is no external verification that he exists apart from the scrolls themselves?

    1. I am not presuming that the evidence within the gospels is irrelevant pending external controls to bring it to the status of fact. No. What I have argued is that judgment must be suspended pending some reason we can bring to bear on the text to enable us to decide one way or the other.

      We have no evidence to point to the historicity of the narratives in the gospels, but we do have evidence that some of those narratives were adaptations of stories from other literature. We can also see evidence that some stories were created out of a sort of “midrash” of Old Testament passages. So my conclusion is based on (a) absence of evidence for historicity and (b) evidence for nonhistoricity, and is therefore with some justification that is more than mere assumption.

      My severe references to certain names is directly related to those same scholars who have demonstrated unprofessional and even culpably dishonest responses to the discussion of historical methodology.

      ETA: As for apologetics, C.J. O’Brien is spot on when he writes:

      The accusation Neil is making is not so much of veiled apologetics on the part of nominally secular or at least non-Christian authors, it is that they have followed the lead of the NT-studies guild and allowed the study of literary sources to stand in for the type of evidence that should properly be the bedrock of historiography.

    2. I should add that the method I am addressing does not mean the end of any evidence for most of the persons we accept as historical in ancient times as is often asserted. I discuss this in my earlier posts on historicity, but in summary, we have external evidence and reasons for accepting that certain works by and about Julius Caesar, for example, do address real historical events and people. We cannot be 100% sure that every minor character in these histories really existed, but we do have enough evidence to make assessments of probability — though in many cases the question is irrelevant.

      The situation with the gospels is completely different. We have no external or objective reasons for accepting the historical core of their narrative at all to begin with. The inclusion of real places and real persons is immaterial, since we know that fiction from all times includes such features for verisimilitude.

      1. Well, someone wrote what we call the works of Plato, so the best you can do there is claim they were written by someone not called Plato. Perhaps you mean we have a similar degree of uncertainty for the historical Socrates as for the historical Jesus? That’s true, and I have no difficulty with that.

        Same as for the ToR from the scrolls as regards external controls, though, not, perhaps, as regards the symbolic character of the treatment of that figure in the literature in question. Less mythical development, less early radical diversity in conception, i.e. the earliest texts from Qumran treating the ToR do not conceive of that figure as a cosmic redeemer a la Paul’s Christ.

        If such rigorous standards were applied across the board, apart from major political/philisophical figures how much ancient history would survive given it mostly comes from single sources in more fragmentary forms and later in time from their subjects that the first gospels are to Jesus.

        Divorcing this question from the specific follow-up re: the ToR and applying it to ancient historical persons generally, much of our evidence from fragmentary, single sources late in time from their subjects should be considered equally poor as that for Jesus in the absence of external evidence. But it is generally the external evidence that is more important than a literary source for establishing basic historicity for an individual, named person of the ancient world. The accusation Neil is making is not so much of veiled apologetics on the part of nominally secular or at least non-Christian authors, it is that they have followed the lead of the NT-studies guild and allowed the study of literary sources to stand in for the type of evidence that should properly be the bedrock of historiography.

        It should also be noted that a written source by a named author is always going to be a more reliable guide than an anonymous literary narrative, and I would in turn challenge you to give an example of another figure widely considered historical solely on the basis of anonymously authored literary narratives of dubious provenance and date. Furthermore, as for “later in time from their subjects that the first gospels are to Jesus,” again, the source of the account tells us perhaps as much as the details of the account. Major political and military figures in the Greco-Roman world are not often the subject of contemporary accounts precisely for the reason that they were real, historical figures whom it might be unwise to treat as history while they or their heirs and allies were alive to take offense at any indiscreet or unwelcome revelations the account might provide. No such considerations were in force for “a village peasant,” so one can legitimately ask why the accounts aren’t closer to contemporaneous to the events they purport to narrate?

  14. There is really no “historical (modern) Jesus”, only the Biblical and Revelatory Jesus! The Holy Scripture is its own presupposition! But certainly includes history! Now really got to run! Back later!

  15. Neil,

    You can’t have it both ways, but indeed the Gospels are different, for they are and have become “canon”, a presupposition you ignore and try to negate. The Bible did not drop out of heaven, so it does have a history! You just don’t believe it. This is your supposition and “your” presupposition, i.e. unbelief! As I have said, all biblical history is really circular, as it comes from men (Prophets & Apostles..Apostolic Church, etc.) God has called, “prophetically” to “the prophetic word made more sure”. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

    You can never negate the presupposition of the Holy Scripture itself, O.T. to the New! It also has a “faith” base, and again, you have ruled this out for yourself. So your circular reasoning is not really the historical or history, but your presupposition not to believe! As those that seek to agree with you also.

  16. You have again replaced scholarly comments with your own brand of rudeness. It is extraordinary that you can imagine that you know when scholars are lying or being dishonest. Every example that I have seen of you accusing scholars like this is wrong, and obviously I know particularly well that I never lie, and that many of my responses are not “non sequiturs or red herrings”, as you say in another slander on a recent post.

    I have never known James McGrath be rude either, nor have scholars whom I have met and who saw more of him when he was in England when they debated with him points about which they disagreed with him.

    You have completely missed the point when you imagine that what scholars think is wrong with mythicists is that they “dare to question and expose the logical fallacies underpinning mainstream historical Jesus studies”. Scholars frequently question major points about the life and teaching of Jesus, and what is wrong with mythicists is not that they “dare to question”, but that (Price and Thompson apart) they are not sufficiently learned, and that all of them (including Price and Thompson) make lots of mistakes, which most properly qualified scholars can see through.

    I do not keep changing my meaning when I make a second attempt to try to explain to you things you do not understand. I can only conclude that you so comprehensively misunderstand some of my comments that you imagine that my second attempt to explain what I mean must be different from the first. If I kept doing what you imagine I would become hopelessly unstuck every time I tried to debate anything with other scholars, but this has never happened with anyone else.

    You do not give a proper reference to Fredricksen, as so often, but you have certainly missed the point. You do not seem to realize that scholars must summarise some points which are well known, otherwise no learned articles could be written, and every monograph would be as long as J.P.Meier’s Marginal Jew. You falsely accused me of not having read Doherty’s book, and you claimed that “Doherty in fact dedicates a lengthy chapter to an examination and testing of the arguments for the existence of Q.” This is why I pointed out to you that that “he dialogues with Mark Goodacre but not with anything like what I call a “chaotic” hypothesis, and referred to the work of Barrett, Black and Casey, the latter published in 2002 and including a survey of previous scholarship, so it would not have been omitted by someone dedicating “a lengthy chapter to an examination and testing of the arguments for the existence of Q” published in 2009.

    Your final paragraph is an inconsistent as it is rude. You say you have never asked me to respond to all of Doherty’s thesis, and then you complain that I have pointed out that a proper refutation requires a whole book, and I know that one is in preparation. Your pathetic analogy of me to a hopelessly inadequate teacher is inaccurate and as rude as your comparison of Paula Fredricksen to a “naughty schoolgirl” and mainstream biblical scholars to “silly detectives”, and your abusive analogy according to which “it is easier for a two humped Bactrian camel to be threaded through a No. 10 sized needle that (sic! your typo this time) it is for scholars to seriously contemplate a new paradigm”. The mythicist case is not scholarly enough to be reasonably described as a “new paradigm”, and while some of the arguments are new enough for a whole book to be needed to update the work of Case, Goguel and those who made smaller critical comments in the older scholarship, many of the basic points are not seriously different from those that were argued a century ago, including the idea that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist, neither did Nazareth, the Gospels were written extremely late etc.etc.. That is why it is important that, for example, Doherty’s discussion of the Double Tradition is inadequate, since this was not part of arguments which could be put forward a century ago.

    It is also sufficiently different from mainstream scholars for you to be converted from a fundamentalist adherence to a Christian cult to a fundamentalist atheist commitment to mythicism, with the result that you are appallingly rude about scholars who make up their minds with careful attention to evidence and argument, and you attribute to them ignorance of all sorts of things as well as a lack of integrity.

    1. Hoo boy, Steph. For you to complain about rudeness is like a vampire declaring an outrage if someone shows it the sign of the cross.

      I challenge you to cite the exact words and sentences of mine to support each of your accusations.

      In other words, supply evidence for your assertions — whether about me, mythicism, Doherty, Price, Thompson, Carr.

      Your post supports my assertion that McGrath and yourself can be, and no doubt surely are, courteous and civil among your peers. McGrath has certainly been rude and insulting on this and his own blog towards me and others.

      Why not excercise some accountability to the publics who have made it possible for you to achieve your learning and foster respect and tolerance for other views — and if they are wrong, demonstrate where they are wrong as analytically and civilly as evolutionists can expose creationism. Is that so hard really? (Well, yes, you have said it is for you. You cannot tell us how Carr is misrepresenting Crossley by quoting his conclusion or where I misrepresent you or others. We have to wait for a book to show us one day.)

      There really is no need for your rudeness. My description of Fredriksen was, I believe, an accurate way to describe the one time she dialogued with Doherty. Why must scholars like yourself and McGrath and Crossley and Fredriksen be rude and offensive when mythicism is discussed? Is it a cover deflect attention from your logical flaws and circularity of your arguments?

  17. Neil, how can it be possible that anyone who denies free will could ever have anything intelligent to say on any subject? Guys like irishanglican who think a malevolent deity is forcing some people to believe like himself and others not to, is just irrational and all his posts are a total waste of time to anyone who hasn’t burned their brains out on LSD.

    1. When I first read your comment I presumed you think I do not believe in free-will. If so, you misread my earlier post. I do not know if we have free-will or not. But some of the replies led me to think there are stronger reasons for thinking we do than not. If we do, I suspect it is limited. But if we don’t have free-will, it would make absolutely no difference to the meaning of what we do. My idea of free-will is not the same as yours, I suspect.

      But re-reading your comment, if you are asking me to comment on IrishAnglican, I cannot. I would no more expect to change his thinking any more than I would expect to change yours. I tend to see comments here, like my posts, directed more at lurkers or serendipitious browsers who learn a little from exchanges among all and sundry. People make their own judgments from the smorgasbord of ideas and info that float around. My own views are always in flux.

      And if I suspect I won’t or don’t like where someone is coming from, it doesn’t hurt to accept his words at face-value and go along for the ride for a while, or simply ignore them. People are not idiots — sometimes :-/ — and the free-flow of ideas from whatever and any quarter is good. That’s what the Enlightenment was all about, I think.

      1. Neil,

        Even from a psychological aspect, it has been shown that man does not have a free-will persay. But he is something of the product of both his genetics and his upbringing and environment. Now we are pressed back on anthropology. Thus there is also a Christian anthropology, herein is St. Paul, etc. Paul was certainly affected by a Jewish Hellenism, and the Greco-Roman world and ideas. Therefore Paul was it seems much more “enlightened” than even many modern (so-called) men now. But as Paul himself wrote and no doubt felt, God was in it all as both sovereign and covenantal. (Gal.4:4, etc.)

  18. Steph,

    Once again a good and helpful post on this subject. Thank you for the information, and I feel balance therein. Though I am a conservative and classlic “Catholic” (no R, or just Roman), but “English” (Anglican) Catholic. And thus this would somewhat include something of the older Evangelical and English history. And for myself at least, I would not put myself within the classic “Fundamentalist” positions.

  19. You have missed the all the main points again, and no thanks for showing at last that you have no idea what “rudeness” really is with your opening analogy which appears from my email notifications to be an abusive afterthought. You are shockingly rude, not remotely accurate, in comparing Paula Fredriksen to a “naughty schoolgirl” and mainstream biblical scholars to “silly detectives”, and in your abusive analogy according to which “it is easier for a two humped Bactrian camel to be threaded through a No. 10 sized needle that it is for scholars to seriously contemplate a new paradigm”, which is more important than your equally rude analogies between me and a “vampire” and a truly hopeless schoolteacher. All of these analogies are abusive. These analogies are not “descriptions”.

    When you inaccurately accuse scholars of “circular arguments”, you just might have noticed that no analogies ever demonstrate anything. You do not seem to have realised either that pointing out the major faults characteristic of mythicists is not rude, but an essential, and regrettably necessary, part of scholarly work, necessitated by their mistakes, which are much helped by lack of learning.

    I first read your blog because I thought, as I still believe, that the arguments of mythicists require serious consideration, and now a complete up-to-date refutation, because, for example, Doherty makes use of a view of the Double Tradition which wasn’t yet available to Drews and co., and which was consequently not refuted in the books of Case and Goguel, or in the many short arguments, well known to professional scholars, of for example, G.F.Moore, as good a scholar as it was possible to be so long ago, explaining why such an insignificant place as Nazareth was not mentioned in early sources, and should not be used to argue that Nazareth, let alone Jesus, did not exist at the time (Beginnings of Christianity, vol I, pp. 426-32).

    This is why I have suggested that some scholars should read your blog, and I have persuaded one scholar to write a book to refute all of you. He is well known to be “never rude, always pitiless”, so I don’t expect you to enjoy his book. It will not be full of “insult or red herrings”, of which you wrongly accuse “McGrath, Crossley, Antonio, Steph and some earlier fundamentalists”. It will include a full refutation of all the arguments in your most recent post on dates, Q, Aramaic, etc as well as previous posts.

    It is quite unscholarly of you to complain that the complex but demonstrably wrong views of mythicists require another whole book to refute them, and to demand that I should repeat and explain briefly the complex arguments of Crossley and others when you and Carr will not become learned enough to understand them.

    This forthcoming book will of course offer a complete refutation of Doherty, Price and Thompson, and draw some attention to the gross personal rudeness of bloggers. Your blog is full of this, as for example in recent comments by “rey” on “Irish Anglican”. “Irish Anglican” has been unfailingly polite about the extreme views with which he does not agree, as he invariably is when he does not agree with me either, but “rey” describes him as “an inconsistent dunce” and a “troll”, as well as accusing him of worshipping “Satan”. That is no improvement of your comments noted above.

    1. Hey, I’m honoured. I even got a mention on Joel Watts’ blog in his post More Mythicist Tripe. And good old not-a-real-doctor-though-he-is-listed-as-a-Jesus-Seminar-fellow Jim West gives me a plug, too. Nice.

      I’m said to:

      have taken on a stern taskmaster belief system,

      possibly have a personality defect,

      appear to be comforting myself in my denial of Jesus’ historicity,

      absolutely hate my former self,

      ‘need’ Jesus not to be real for my own personal comfort,

      create conspiracy theories,

      have refused to acknowledge scholarship that once denied my view of faith
      (Baptists? Methodists?),

      and now deny the same scholars who deny my rejection of faith,

      forget how history is formed,

      profoundly need there to be no god,

      leap any logical boundary to this end,

      but what’s really interesting is my motive in all of this — I know that hell and damnation await me if there is a god!

      Wowee! 🙂

      Thanks, Joel, your post and Jim West remarks have made my day!

  20. “Any stigma,” said a witty tongue, “will do to beat a dogma”; and the flails of ridicule have been brandished with such energy of late on the threshing-floor of controversy that the true seed of the Word has become well-nigh lost amid the whirling of chaff.” – Dorothy Sayers, ‘Creed or Chaos’

    I hope we can see that the controversy, indeed most necessary often, must be done in the spirit of seeking truth! And as Steph says, not a “hobby-horse” for mere opinion for itself. Seeking something of academic excellence is always the goal. This also must be the challenge of bloggers! I can say for myself, I have put out some “chaff” in my time, but try not to fall there.

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