Continuing a series of responses to Dunn’s response to Price’s chapter on Jesus mythicism. (See Historical Jesus: Five Views for all related posts.)
It is quite “interesting” to regularly run across remarks in web-land about how “spot on” Dunn’s criticism of Price’s chapter is, and how so many “fully agree with everything Dunn says.”
I can only imagine most readers who say these sorts of things never read Price’s chapter and Dunn’s together. Or if they did, they are swayed by Dunn’s status as a scholar — and their own eagerness to find anything to rebut a Christ-Myth argument — to swallow everything he says and forget the many many instances where Price’s own words belie so much of what Dunn writes.
In this post I look at
an instance of Dunn saying that Price “ignores” evidence that he does not ignore at all but discusses explicitly
an instance of Dunn leading readers to think Price resorts to ad hoc claims of interpolation to sidestep contrary evidence, when in fact he does not
where Dunn argues that the Bible’s claims of supernatural appearances are evidence for the historical Jesus
and where Dunn even manages to argue that the absence of a detailed description for a supernatural appearance of Jesus strengthens the case for the historicity of Jesus against Jesus mythicism.
Dunn attempts to rebut Price’s assertion that there is “no mention of a miracle-working Jesus in secular sources” (p. 62):
Now to make this claim, [Price] must dismiss the evidence that Josephus gives as well as the Jewish tradition, which marked Jesus as a sorcerer — evidence he does not discuss but that shows up in major second-century sources that debate Jesus. (p. 101)
I don’t know how Dunn defines “secular sources” but I thought secular refers to something nonreligious. I would not have thought of the Babylonian Talmud or Justin Martyr’s writings as “secular”. But leaving that aside, I fail to see how anyone could be impressed by Dunn’s reply to Price here. Continue reading “Dunn on Price (4)”
Christ, meaning Messiah, is, of course, not a proper name but a title, like King or High Priest.
Yet Paul’s letters use Christ as if it is a proper name for Jesus.
Dunn writes in response to Price (The Historical Jesus: Five Views) what is well known to all scholars:
As often noted, the fact that Christ was more or less a proper name (Jesus Christ) by the time of Paul (within twenty to twenty-five years of Jesus’ death) must indicate that messianic status had already been ascribed to this Jesus for such a long time that the titular significance of Christ (Messiah) had largely faded. (p. 96)
What is more rarely discussed is the possibility that Jesus, meaning Saviour, is also a personal name that originated as a title. (I know Jesus/Joshua is a common personal name; this post is addressing the happy coincidence that it was bestowed on the one who epitomized its meaning in the Christian myth and narrative.)
The poster laments that “less (sic) people are interested in historical Jesus studies than in previous years” and asks what cultural factors might be at play to explain this. It links, by way of some assistant discussion starter, to Scot McKnight post in Christianity Today, originally posted April 2010. (My little discussion of this article for what it’s worth is kept here.)
That article addresses the truism that HJ studies have tended to produce a Jesus modeled after the personal interests and predilections of each scholar making the inquiry.
The very idea of a quest for “the historical Jesus” is founded on a wish to find some evidence for something such a person supposedly ever did or said, even for what such a person indeed even was! How often do police start a search for someone when they don’t even know if they’re to look for a rabbi or a rebel, and have only anonymous and uncorroborated reports that the person even exists? Continue reading “The Clueless Search for the Historical Jesus”
Someone posted a link to a post on my blog on Jerry Coyne’s blog “Why Evolution Is True” (See his post: I get Christian email: more irreducible complexity) — and wonderful, wonderful! I like reading books like his (I have referenced Coyne’s book twice here but never knew he also had a blog) — and I loved reading his summary explanation for the evolution of sex. He was giving a clearly reasoned, evidence-based response to a Creationist. I have read more detailed accounts of this topic, but what was refreshing was to see how real science, real argument, real logic, real evidence, really works. You don’t find arguments like that — or you certainly very rarely find them — when historical Jesus scholars respond to Jesus mythicist arguments. Actually that is misleading. Historical Jesus scholars very rarely in my experience ever respond to Christ myth arguments. They mostly pretend to, usually with a snicker or sneer, and demonstrate their ignorance or incomprehension of
basic historical methodological ideals in nonbiblical studies,
Scholars are very busy people so we can surely forgive them when they write reviews that indicate they haven’t taken the time to read attentively what they are reviewing.
One instance of this is James D. G. Dunn’s review of Robert Price’s chapter questioning the historicity of Jesus in The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Dunn faults Price for irritating him by “ignoring what everyone else in the business regards as primary data”.
Where I begin to become irritated by Price’s thesis, as with those of his predecessors, is his ignoring what everyone else in the business regards as primary data . . . . Why no mention of 1 Corinthians 15:3 — generally reckoned to be an account of the faith that Paul received when he was converted, that is, within two or three years of the putative events — “that Christ died. . . .” Why no reference to Paul’s preaching of Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23), his preaching as openly portraying Christ as crucified (Gal 3:1)?
When I read or hear what others say about such and such, I have learned it generally pays to read such and such for myself before taking anyone else’s perceptions and accounts on board. Anyone reading Dunn’s criticism here would, on the civil assumption he is accurately indicating what Price failed to address, tend to think Price a bit of a dunce for ignoring such obvious data. Continue reading “Dunn on Price (2)”
Jean-Pierre Vernant in Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays (1991) notes three forms in which gods appeared when they visited earth. But dammit, Dixon cites only two of these:
They simply come “to” the mortal to give that mortal strength. In my previous post I quoted some examples of this sort of visitation. The gods appear all of a sudden, as gods, to the mortal in order to give that moral strength and encouragement after dropping down from the heavens like a bird.
They take on the form of humans in order to keep their divine identity hidden while they walk the earth and converse with mortals. Again several examples are cited in my previous post.
Readers familiar with the first instance might have imagined Jesus receiving strength and encouragement to perform his ministry.
Those of the second, that Jesus had a concealed identity. In support of this view we read of the spirit at baptism descending εις αυτον (“into”? him), the proclamation, heard only by Jesus and the readers, at the baptism by God the Father that “this is my beloved Son”, and the revelation of Jesus’ identity at the transfiguration halfway through the gospel.
In browsing the Iliad to find selections cited by Dixon I came across one that I think he failed to mention — but he does say the examples are very numerous. In book 13 of the Iliad Poseidon is described as visiting the mortals on the battlefield — not openly, but to keep his identity secret — but as a man:
Poseidon on the other hand went about among the Argives to incite them, having come up from the gray sea in secret, for he was grieved at seeing them vanquished by the Trojans, and was furiously angry with Zeus. Both were of the same race and country, but Zeus was elder born and knew more, therefore Poseidon feared to defend the Argives openly, but in the likeness of man, he kept on encouraging them throughout their host. (Iliad 13)
Descending Spirit and Descending Gods: A “Greek” Interpretation of the Spirit’s “Descent as a Dove” in Mark 1:10 by Edward P. Dixon was published last year (2009) in the Journal of Biblical Literature (128, no. 4). It is a welcome breeze of fresh sanity into the so many contorted attempts to explain Gospel themes and images exclusively in terms of very non-Christian and even sometimes anti-Christian Jewish motifs. Of course the Gospel narratives draw much from the Old Testament. But there is no need to insist upon an either-or scenario. The evidence is surely overwhelming that they also drew on Hellenistic motifs. There is surely nothing controversial about this. Intertestamental Jewish literature, fictional, philosophical and historical, did the same. It would surely be an anomaly if the Gospels indeed were composed entirely from a heritage that was alien to non-Jews and yet came to be embraced by non-Jews.
In the following I add a little to Dixon’s citations by quoting certain passages in full with links to their online contexts. (I also omit quite a few details of Dixon’s discussion.)
Just two points from James D. G. Dunn’s response to Robert M. Price’s chapter, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point”, in The Historical Jesus: Five Views are addressed here. Maybe will address more over time in other posts. Dunn’s responses are lazy and insulting dismissals of Price’s arguments, not rebuttals based on logic or evidence, as remarked upon in recent comments. It is instructive to compare Price’s own response to Dunn’s chapter in the same book. No insult. No cavalier dismissals. But a pointed rebuttal from the evidence, scholarship and all tied together with rigid and nonfallacious logic. Price’s responses to Dunn make for much more interesting reading. I should highlight them more with posts in the future.
Meanwhile, the two points I address here are Dunn’s insult and avoidance of what Price’s stated about
the varying dates and scenarios for Jesus’ crucifixion in the early Christian evidence, and
September 11 came 5 to 7 days late for the Palestinian refugees in 1982. It is a most telling indictment that so much can be made of a September massacre of Westerners when up till 2001 the West scarcely registered a damn about massacres of Arabs and others, such as the slaughter of Arab civilians by pro-American thugs backed by Israel and the U.S.A.
Does anyone really have to ask “Why do they hate us?”
Sept. 11: A Day Without War
By Amy Goodman
September 08, 2010 “Information Clearing House” — The ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States should serve as a moment to reflect on tolerance. It should be a day of peace. Yet the rising anti-Muslim fervor here, together with the continuing U.S. military occupation of Iraq and the escalating war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), all fuel the belief that the U.S. really is at war with Islam.
Sept. 11, 2001, united the world against terrorism. Everyone, it seemed, was with the United States, standing in solidarity with the victims, with the families who lost loved ones. The day will be remembered for generations to come, for the notorious act of coordinated mass murder. But that was not the first Sept. 11 to be associated with terror: Continue reading “Sept. 11: A Day Without War”
Laziness is common among historians. When they find a continuous account of events for a certain period in an ‘ancient’ source, one that is not necessarily contemporaneous with the events, they readily adopt it. They limit their work to paraphrasing the source, or, if needed, to rationalisation.— Liverani,Myth and politics in ancient Near Eastern historiography, p.28. (Cited p. 149 in The Israelites in History and Tradition)
Liverani is addressing historians of Hittite history here. Historians of the Hittites felt they had all they needed to know to get started by the discovery of a decree by King Telipinus. This presents an outline of Hittite dynastic history that has been used by many Hittite historians. But Liverani showed that the “history” had little to do with actual reality. It was a highly ideological text designed to establish a (fictional) rationale for King Telipinus’s usurpation.
In few places is Liverani’s warning against naively accepting an ancient text as a historical source as relevant as in biblical studies, where the amount of rationalistic paraphrase has in fact been overwhelming. (p. 149)
Lemche is speaking specifically of Old Testament studies. But my observation is that it applies at least equally strongly among New Testament studies.
A good friend who is a creationist recently offered me a creationist article to read (“or refute”). The article’s arguments against evolution are based on:
a misstatement of, or failure to understand, the arguments for evolution itself
a glossing over of arguments for evolution by misleading oversimplifications
a failure to address the counter-evidence for evolution cited by evolutionary scientists
“bait and switch” — “sloppy language leading to sloppy thinking”
The article my friend gave me is Tortoises of the Galapagos by Lita Cosner and Jonathan Sarfati, apparently found in creation.com.
Here is the critical passage:
Evolution from goo to you via the zoo would require new genes encoding encyclopedic amounts of new information. But the tortoises’ adaptation to various island environments can be explained by the sorting out of already existing genes with some of these then eliminated by natural selection. . . .
Two archaeologists, one Israeli (Israel Finkelstein) and one American (Neil Asher Silberman), have bizarrely managed to repackage a Taliban-like ancient biblical legal code into a modern enlightened expression of human rights, human liberation and social equality.
Presumably this is done in order to preserve some (mythical) legitimacy for traditional claims among certain Jewish quarters that it is Jewish heritage that has been the harbinger of humanity’s modern spiritual values. One wonders if there is also a need to legitimize the claims of modern Jews to the land of Israel by appealing to a historic presence that must be justified in spiritual as well as mere ‘genetic’ terms.
The “Bible’s integrity”, they write, “stems from being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of people’s liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality. It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive.” (The Bible Unearthed, p. 318)
Finkelstein and Silberman write this sort of stuff as a compensation for the fact that archaeology refutes many of the Biblical stories, such as those of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, the glorious united kingdom of David and Solomon. They console those who have long cherished such biblical myths as narratives of their genuine historical identity: “Yet the Bible’s integrity and, in fact, its historicity, do not depend on dutiful historical “proof” of any of its particular events or personalities, such as the parting of the Red Sea, the trumpet blasts that toppled the walls of Jericho, or David’s slaying of Goliath with a single shot of his sling.”
Monzer Zimmo is a “Palestinian-Canadian living and working in Ottawa, Canada. Monzer is an advocate of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the peaceful creation of a bi-national-democratic state on all the territory of historic Palestine, where Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others live together as equal citizens; be and feel safe, secure, and at home.”
Why do Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, and other Zionist leaders insist that “without Palestinian recognition that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, there will not be peace”? They have declared themselves as such. They enjoy the support of most European nations, United States of America, Canada, Australia, and many other countries in the world that have no problem whatsoever in describing the state of Israel as such. Many Arab countries – with leaders suffering from near-sighted vision – would have no problem going along with that concept. Almost every country with significant military, economic, or diplomatic power and influence either fully agrees with the description of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or has no real problem with it. So, why does the Israeli leadership insist on demanding that recognition from the powerless, penniless Palestinian leadership?