History for Dummies (and Biblical Scholars)

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by Neil Godfrey

First aid training dummies.
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A biblical scholar earlier this year publicly asked:

Any recommendations on reading about the philosophy and methods of historical research, written by someone with no connection to Biblical studies?

I did provide that professor with a number of suggestions (the post included major figures in the field of twentieth-century historiography and readings that would lead to others not discussed in detail in that post), and no doubt he will read them as soon as opportunity permits.

The same biblical scholar in the same public comment demonstrated his eagerness to learn how “history” as practiced by historical Jesus scholars is viewed by historians in nonbiblical areas when he wrote:

I don’t know – I asked a colleague in the history department about methods and the “criteria” used in historical Jesus research, and he basically said that history, once you get beyond the groundwork of trying to date sources, is “an art.”

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What is the difference between a religious bigot and a hostile anti-mythicist?

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

by Neil Godfrey

L’esprit d’escalier. In my earlier post I should have explicitly mentioned religious tolerance instead of subsuming it beneath general human tolerance and acceptance of differences. (Listening to another Late Night Live podcast last night, this one on being Moslem in America, brought this to mind.)

We would never think to publicly denigrate someone who had investigated various faiths and decided to embrace, say, Catholicism or Mormonism.

We love the idea of free speech. Some of us even take it seriously and do actively live by the principle:

I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.

The principle goes back to the Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke who argued that truth will win in the free exchange and airing of ideas.

So why do we find public intellectuals, even some adhering to a religious faiths that boasts of love and tolerance, denigrating those who are persuaded by or even consider plausible the idea that Jesus Christ never historically existed? Some actively incite public ridicule and scorn.

One academic, a doctor of divinity who specializes in christology, is on record as even insisting, repeatedly, that mythicists do not deserve to be heard. It is perhaps instructive that one whose professional speciality is in such a nebulous meaningless area should be the one to practice opposition to the values of the Enlightenment. (It is also instructive that the earliest Christ Myth theorists came out of that same Enlightenment.)

John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration he...
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