Updated to include link to Doherty's own comments: 1:20 pm, 15th May 2011.
Doherty’s chapter five is titled “Apocalyptic Expectations” and that, indeed, is what the chapter is about.
Firstly, I will address an unprofessional falsehood published by McGrath in a comment added to his review. McGrath in his review cited Hebrews, 1 Timothy and 1 John in a context that suggested he was using them as evidence for what Paul himself wrote. A commenter picked him up on this error, and McGrath then accused Doherty of being the one to lump all the epistles together indiscriminately. The point of such an accusation is to lead readers to think that Doherty’s arguments are sloppy.
Yes, I should have explained that Doherty lumps all the epistles together, for the most part, whereas my instinct is to focus on the authentic Pauline letters as our earliest evidence.
McGrath then excused himself from his own error by saying he wrote the post late at night. But that does not excuse him from his accusation that it is Doherty who “for the most part lumps all the epistles together”.
Doherty refers to passages of Paul in 1 Thessalonians (p. 51), 1 Corinthians (p. 53, 56), Romans (pp. 55-6) and 2 Corinthians (p. 56) and in each case associates these with Paul’s name.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 . . . Paul informs his readers . . . A few verses later Paul warns . . . .
At the end of 1 Corinthians, Paul makes an urgent plea . . .
But the revealing passages are those in which Paul expresses his eschatological (End-time) expectations. The first to look at is Romans 8:22-23 . . . . Here Paul’s orientation is squarely on the future. . . . Go on to Romans 13:11-12 . . . .
After quoting 2 Corinthians 6:2 Doherty immediately comments: Paul’s quote is Isaiah 49:8. . . It is one thing for Paul to ignore Jesus’ career . . . .
On page 53 Doherty lists 4 scriptures in a row — Philippians 1:6 and 3:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:7 and 1 Peter 1:7 — and introduces this collection with the explanation that they present passages from “epistle writers from Paul on . . . .”
Doherty is clear throughout his book on clearly distinguishing the different epistles, and sets this out in black and white as early as pages 16-17 of chapter 1. On those pages Doherty spells out which epistles are generally considered authentic to Paul and the various date ranges assigned to each of the NT epistles.
McGrath’s accusation that Doherty “lumps all the epistles together, for the most part”, is clear evidence that he has failed to honestly present Doherty’s arguments.
But what is the chapter about?
McGrath would have his readers believe that Doherty is attempting to selectively proof-text an argument that Paul did not believe Jesus had come to earth in recent times. While this is certainly a core theme of Doherty’s overall argument throughout the book, it is not the focus of this chapter. The focus is, as the title suggests, what the NT epistles indicate — and some extra-canonical texts as well — what the early apostles or preachers of Christianity understood what to expect with the advent of the Christ or God in history:
The Jewish conception of history and time was fairly simple. The period stretching back through known history was the “old age,” and age of sin and evil and darkness, when God had permitted Satan to rule,when the righteous were persecuted and divine justice was delayed. The “new age” would begin with the arrival of some heavenly figure or messianic agent of God who would direct the overthrow of Israel’s enemies and the forces of evil generally. This would be preceded by a build-up in which woes and natural disasters would be visited upon the earth, to test the faithful. (p. 54)
This is the sort of statement that McGrath apparently considers has “no real bearing on his mythicist case”:
As it happens, in chapter 5 of his book, Earl Doherty presents a fair amount of information that is simply mainstream scholarship and perfectly accurate. He provides some information about Judaism in the Hellenistic age and apocalyptic literature that is found in most books on the subject, . . .** and which has no real bearing on his mythicist case . . . .***
McGrath here demonstrates his failure to have grasped the entire argument of chapter 5. It is those apocalyptic expectations that is the whole edifice supporting his interpretations of the NT epistles where they reference the end-times.
What Doherty is arguing is that the historical Jesus hypothesis fails on the grounds that what it could be expected to predict is nowhere found in the evidence, and that the evidence supports, on the contrary, the mythicist case.
If this was indeed the scenario faced by the first few generations of Christian preachers and believers, we would expect to find two things. First, a significant recasting of the two-age pattern; the coming of Jesus would have been seen as a pivotal point in the ongoing scheme of redemption history. Second, that very failure of expectation would have required explanation. For no one could have anticipated — and no one did — that the arrival of the Messiah would not be accompanied by the establishment of the kingdom. We would expect to find an apologetic industry arising within the Christian movement to explain this strange and disappointing turn of events.
But do we find either of these two features in the epistles?
We have seen several passages in the Pauline letters which speak of the long-hidden divine “mysteries” which God has revealed to “apostles and prophets.” . . . . (p. 55)
(McGrath himself quotes part of the above passage, but then builds an argument similar to the style we find in Crossley’s argument for dating the Gospel of Mark to the mid 30s or early 40s: if the scriptures don’t say what our hypothesis would lead us to expect them to say, then we can assume the author and readers all knew that information so that’s why it is not there! And this is a professor complaining about what he thinks is a “lack of rigour” in an argument!)
Of course Doherty discusses passages in his book about what Christ is said to have done or accomplished in the past. That is the point of much of his argument here in chapter 5, too — that what the epistles say is that what is new in the days of the apostles is that past things or mysteries have “now been revealed”. This was the main thrust of an earlier chapter but one might be forgiven for not knowing this from McGrath’s “reviews”. Past events — Doherty argues these happened in a realm above earth — are nowhere in any of the epistles said to be the eschatologically pivotal events that all the epistle writers are waiting for and leading their readers to expect. Doherty’s point is that if Jesus had come and died and been resurrected in recent history, surely that would have had some significance as an eschatological marker whenever the NT epistle writers address eschatology.
More detailed rebuttal demonstrating the McGrath’s apparent prejudice or incompetence in his citation of specific verses from Galatians 3:24 and Hebrews 10:5 is found in Doherty’s own comment on an earlier post.
As a comical footnote I might remark on a reference McGrath makes to exchanges he has had in the past with me.
Doherty rightly accepts what some other mythicists I have interacted with deny, namely that there were some widespread expectations about the nature of the coming Messiah (at least, if the Davidic Messiah is in view) . . . .
Yes, I do question whether or not there was the sort of messianic expectation seizing the minds of Jews in the early or mid first century. But the reason I do is based on my reading of mainstream scholarly publications. So when McGrath accuses the questioning of these expectations as a part of early first-century history as something stained with “mythicism” he is really shooting his own scholarly peers.
I have cited the scholarship and evidence in The Myth of a General Messianic Expectation in Jesus’ Time and quoted a significant portion of Jeffrey Staley’s review of one of Fitzmyer’s book, The One Who Is To Come. They may not have won the day in persuading all of their arguments, but hey, McGrath can point to Crossley’s argument for an early first-century dating of Mark to show that such a thing is possible! And they do actually discuss evidence, not what we must believe was said and done because there was no need for any trace of evidence to be left.
** (The first part I deleted here is an ad hominem attack faulting Doherty for not acknowledging his debt to scholars — as if one normally cites sources when one is simply laying out background knowledge “found in most books on the subject”)
*** (I delete another ad hominem where McGrath accuses Doherty of attempting to deceive his readers. “Deception” does come to mind but I don’t find it in what Doherty has written.)
If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!