Here are some lines that seem to me to have acquired the “power” of mantras in biblical scholarship. I call them mantras because I have seen each of them so often in the books, papers, theses and articles I have read by biblical scholars, and they appear to be used as statements whose words carry unassailable potency in an argument. Like Motherhood Statements or the Apostle’s Creed they do not require justification. They are their own justification. And their presence in an argument is clearly intended to have the power to ward off all that is contrary. They may read like formulaic debating lines, but I see them as substitutes for rigorous argument. They are, for the most part, dogmatic and circular assertions that really ought to be made to justify themselves. (Some that may not be circular are simply false; or if not false, vacuous.)
If you can apply them to any particular argument you can say you have won without even having to do a surveillance of whatever might exalt itself against “fair-mindedness and reason”.
Of course, if some do toss in one of these mantras as a cherry on top of a major serious argument, that is fine (I think). But one so often encounters them as complete “arguments” in themselves.
The points that follow were all most conveniently found in a single four-page article. Hence their convenience for isolating and repeating here. (Now I don’t mean to put down their author. Many biblical scholars use these, many of whose works I learn much and highly value. And the particular scholar whose article I took them from is one I have particularly found to be insightful and informative reading in other respects.)
I substitute ZZZZ of COCO etc for the name of a text or person. They represent blanks to be filled in with just about whatever text or name you like.
- Any narrative which purports, on the face of it, to be telling about events that actually happened deserves to be treated as true unless it can be demonstrated not to be.
(See pseudo-scholarly “hermeneutics” for response to this mantra #1)
- If we read all ancient historians the way skeptics read ZZZZ, we would have to throw out nearly all of ancient history.
- The argument the author is making requires that he and his audience believe what he is saying.
- Rejection of miracles or supernatural events is based on philosophical or ideological, not historical grounds.
- The restrained manner in which the narrative is told favors historicity. The stories have the tone of a simple report of fact. They “ring true.”
- Many of the stories fulfill what is known as the criterion of embarrassment. Thus these stories must be firmly rooted in early tradition.
(See It is highly unlikely and related posts linked there.)
- Several stories exhibit a level of psychological realism that is not found in ancient biography. This shows an awareness of human development well beyond the narrative abilities of ancient writers of fiction; to posit such is to posit the unique and unexampled.
- ZZZZ shows no indication of a late date, nor any sign of dependence on CCCC.
- Many of the details are extraneous to his alleged theological purposes, yet fit well with a Palestinian provenance and fail to show signs of later development.
- Thus he is careful to preserve the actual words spoken and not to substitute the terms he and his audience would normally use.
- Some would doubt the historicity of the events recorded by ZZZZ simply because they are not recorded in other sources.
- The fact that there are places where ZZZZ cannot be checked against CCCC by no means counts against its accuracy.
- To insist on outside support for all the stories is to require from ZZZZ a standard that is not required of other texts.
- The author identifies himself simply as, COCO. He does not need to identify himself further. A later pseudonymous writer would have made a point of explicitly claiming to be the COCO who was an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry.
- The frequent mentions of JOJO, and the remark that he quietly observed all that was done, suggests that JOJO was the source of ZZZZ.
- Skeptics will no doubt suggest that some stories are creative expansions of others. But this fails to take into account the vast differences between the stories.
- And even if the stories were told in SUCH AND SUCH a way, this would not by any means show that the incidents related were untrue or did not happen.
Added since the original post:
- The early Christians had no reason to invent this account.
I had thought at first of making a little “rebuttal” of each one of these, but 17 is too many for me to respond to this way and still keep out of trouble in real life. Maybe I will come back to these and fill in rejoinders to each one piecemeal over time. Or maybe comments can help fill this lack? Or even add more mantras. Maybe we could then post a list that is a combined effort, and call them The 17 Biblical Escapes from Real Argument or something like that.
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