Predictions of Future McGrath Reviews of Doherty’s Book

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by Neil Godfrey

Reading McGrath’s chapter reviews of Doherty’s book is to experience repeats of McGrath’s criticisms of mythicist arguments that he was making long before he ever apparently knew Doherty had a book. Now in his latest, Doherty is — don’t be shocked now — like a creationist!

Before then, we heard the same old line that Doherty does not consider or address alternative explanations, that Doherty simply thinks by advancing his own theory that he thinks he was made a persuasive argument, that by pointing out false attributions of sayings, or deeds, to Jesus, that he is proving his nonhistoricity, that he fails to engage the scholarship in the area, etc.

Here is my prediction for the rest of his reviews of Doherty’s book. Every complaint that McGrath has made about mythicism before he read Doherty’s book will be made again with reference to Doherty’s book.

I venture to suggest that McGrath’s intention is not to present and debate Doherty’s arguments but to use the book as a platform to repeat, ad nauseam, all he has ever said about mythicism before. And to do that he will continue to simply ignore — as he did with his review of Price’s chapter in Five Views — whole chunks of central arguments Doherty does make. He will continue to say Doherty fails to address points that he in fact does address. He will continue to ignore Doherty’s own explanations as if he silently makes way for McGrath to fill in gaps with his own mantras.

McGrath has said repeatedly he does not believe mythicism should be taken seriously. He has said that he believes he should write against mythicism, however, because it still gets a positive press in some newspapers and ‘on the internet’.

McGrath has even disingenuously claimed that he is really and truly open to the possibility of Jesus not having existed, but that, well, mythicists just can’t make a good enough argument to convince him. But he let his colours show when he had no answer for the logic of Earl Doherty’s argument.

McGrath will continue to insult Doherty and mythicists  (comparing them with creationists etc) while accusing them of making false accusations.

But one thing you will not see is a serious engagement with Doherty’ (or other mythicists’) arguments. He will always come back to repeating one of his 23 auto-responses.

McGrath is convinced he understands mythicist arguments (he understood Doherty’s before he even read them!) and will continue to say that mythicists are just like creationists if they complain that he, a representative of the academic guild, disagrees with them.

McGrath’s intention is clear. It is to silence Doherty, to deflect readers from Doherty’s book. He may even say (as he did with Price) that he hopes his readers do read Doherty’s book for themselves — just to see f0r themselves how wrong it is. It’s the old peer-bullying tactic.

In my previous post I quoted Lemche’s discussion of the tactics of conservative scholarship. Replace “minimalists” with “mythicists” there and names like Davies, Lemche, Whitelam and Thompson with Price, Doherty, Salm and Thompson, and see how perfectly aptly it still reads.

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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “Predictions of Future McGrath Reviews of Doherty’s Book”

  1. Mythicists seem to like more complex explanations over simple ones. Reading the newer edition of Doherty’s book isn’t my first encounter with these claims and arguments. That the book doesn’t do a better job of making the case for mythicism than the earlier edition or online presentations of the same arguments is hardly my fault.

    1. Maybe in a review you would like to sum up the points of the argument of the chapter to show us exactly what you understand Doherty to be getting across, and then explain why you find it wanting. I wonder how many who have read Doherty’s book would recognize Doherty’s arguments from your reviews. That’s why in a recent post I showed your glaring omissions and by placing your statements and Doherty’s words side by side.

  2. I wonder how Thompson feels about being lumped in with Salm and Doherty. You know Thompson and company have received a lot of high profile engagement, they aren’t amateurs selling books on line. I’m not sure if it fair to compare their careers with Price, and company. By the way, i’m not familiar with a Christ myth theory from Thompson, if he has published one, shouldn’t we be discussing it instead?

    1. Thompson’s Christ myth idea (and book by the title “The Messiah Myth”) has been discussed often enough here and elsewhere. Thompson has also commented favourably on Salm’s book.

      That’s why I included his name on both sides of the equation. Duh!

  3. Dr. McGrath seems to fail to understand the primary Latin form of Ockham’s Razor:

    Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora

    He somehow seems to think that the demonstrably fictional Gospels make more sense and are in fact simpler to explain if we add an additional historical Jesus who is described by none of them, than to suggest they are all man-made, just as all other similar literature is indeed man-made. The simplest explanation is that someone made up a story and the story grew. This principle works fine for King Arthur or Sherlock Holmes. What is complicated is explaining how there could have been a real Arthur, a real Sherlock Holmes or a real Jesus, since none of the stories agree.

    Mike, your ignorance of the state of play is shocking given how seriously you take yourself as the arbiter of all educated and scholarly discourse (just a hint, capitalize the letter “I” when you are using it in a contraction as a first-person pronoun). Here’s a link to Thompson’s book.

    I am sure Dr. McGrath is familiar with Dr. Thompson’s work, if that’s what you’re wondering. One wonders why he has not chosen to engage it.

    1. I worry about Butler University standards, since it is clear McGrath has no knowledge of the pivotal names and philosophical developments in historiography even though he insists on calling himself a historian, has no comprehension of normative logical rules and processes, does not understand the meaning of either circular reasoning or begging the question, and has no notion of the meaning of Ockham’s razor. He is a theologian who has specialized in Christology, and a Christian personally called by the living Jesus. That such an intellectual should compare his own research to the hard sciences of biology by labelling his critics “creationists” speaks volumes.

    2. Evan, Thompson doesn’t seem to commit to a Jesus doesn’t exist position, and seems to be more interested in exploring the links between the gospel narratives and the wider near eastern messiah concepts. Since he feels that that the gospels are to be taken as spiritual fiction I can see why that might be of interest to a supporter of some christ myth, but it isn’t a Christ myth book itself. This may be why more Christ Mythers have not embraced the work. Robert Price, however, was dismissive of it for other reasons, and those seemed to be a common thread in reviews. I haven’t the chance to read it, but I am interested in his ideas on how ancient readers read the prophecies, his idea that they saw them as “utopian fantasies” sounds like my own take on them, but I disagree with his idea that people in the time the gospels were written universally felt that way about them, as someone else pointed out, Bar Kochba seemed to take them literally. Sadly the reviews were un-enthusiastic, with the biggest issues stemming from Thompson’s rejection of the idea that Matthew and Luke used Mark, and his lack of interest in Paul. It may be worth while for his take on the regional understanding of messiah concepts though. I had started it awhile back, but I don’t really have time to read everything.

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