2011-05-15

Doherty’s argument in chapter 5, and correcting falsehoods in a certain “review”

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by Neil Godfrey

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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”.

Fact:

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 hypotheses 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.)

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14 Comments

  • 2011-05-15 15:48:37 GMT+0000 - 15:48 | Permalink

    Yes, if when stating general background information which is common knowledge and stated by dozens of scholars I were to “acknowledge my debt” the text would become quite unwieldy.

    In any case, Jim has obviously forgotten what he read on page ix of my Preface: “My debt to traditional New Testament scholarship remains immense, while that to other scholars who work outside mainstream confines has increased over the years, and I will try to give credit where credit is due.”

  • Mike Wilson
    2011-05-15 17:29:14 GMT+0000 - 17:29 | Permalink

    This is what James wrote.
    “What is not being mentioned is that Paul and other epistle authors use not only the future language of an expected coming in the future, but also the past tense came in reference to a Jesus who, in Doherty’s scenario, did not previously come. Here are a few examples:”

    This is what smijer wrote
    “What is not being mentioned is that Paul uses not only the future language of an expected coming in the future, but also the past tense came in reference to a Jesus who, in Doherty’s scenario, did not previously come. Here are a few examples:”?

    I notice smijer leaves out “and other epistle authors”. James should not of trusted that smijer would present the argument correctly. He should have corrected smijer and not apologized for smijer’s misstatement of his argument.

    • 2011-05-15 17:39:09 GMT+0000 - 17:39 | Permalink

      You are wrong. What smijer wrote was this:

      Why Hebrews, 1 Tim, 1 John? Especially immediately following, “What is not being mentioned is that Paul uses not only the future language of an expected coming in the future, but also the past tense came in reference to a Jesus who, in Doherty’s scenario, did not previously come. Here are a few examples:”?

      Smijer left out some words of James but he did present James’ argument correctly as demonstrated by the words you omitted from his reply. It was McGrath — who by his own admission — lumped Hebrews and 1 John and 1 Timothy together indiscriminately with Paul’s letters — the very thing he falsely accuses Doherty of doing.

      What McGrath should do is correct his statement and apologize to Doherty.

      • Mike Wilson
        2011-05-15 18:01:00 GMT+0000 - 18:01 | Permalink

        Those do count as “other epistle authors” don’t they? He does not present the argument correctly. He is saying as you say, “It was McGrath — who by his own admission — lumped Hebrews and 1 John and 1 Timothy together indiscriminately with Paul’s letters — the very thing he falsely accuses Doherty of doing” But James did no such thing. Just as Doherty writes “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 . . . .“
        It seems as though both are presenting arguments based on usage thought the epistles to examine what Paul means by the terms. Doherty often points to other epistles as supporting his views on what Paul is trying to express. He thinks they all reflect a common set of ideas.

        • 2011-05-15 18:11:31 GMT+0000 - 18:11 | Permalink

          You are right. But what you are reading is a corrected version of McGrath’s post. McGrath has edited his post since smijer quoted from it and smijer did quote McGrath correctly without any omissions.

          I zoteroed/downloaded McGrath’s post for reference on May 14 at 15:42:27 2011 (my time, Eastern Standard).

          These are the words he used in that original post:

          What is not being mentioned is that Paul uses not only the future language of an expected coming in the future, but also the past tense came in reference to a Jesus who, in Doherty’s scenario, did not previously come. Here are a few examples:

          If ever I make a change to a post after publishing it I will make a note at the top to indicate I have done so, or sometimes in the main body, giving the time of the correction. (Earlier today I did the same with the post above — check at the top of the post.)

          McGrath does not seem interested in bothering with such an audit/versioning trail.

          • Mike Wilson
            2011-05-15 18:25:07 GMT+0000 - 18:25 | Permalink

            My apologies, Neil, given those circumstance.

            • 2011-05-15 18:30:04 GMT+0000 - 18:30 | Permalink

              It is McGrath who should apologize for misleading his readers and making his subsequent commenters look like fools.

  • 2011-05-16 04:50:09 GMT+0000 - 04:50 | Permalink

    I acknowledged the error, apologized for it, and corrected it, leaving the apology in place. I perhaps ought to have known that someone like you might go in and focus on the sorts of imprecisions of expression that all bloggers produce at some point or other, rather than on substantive criticisms of the gaping holes in Doherty’s case. But I am indeed sorry that, as a result of your nit-picking and attempt to distract from substantive points by doing so, Mike was made to look foolish.

    • 2011-05-16 05:04:12 GMT+0000 - 05:04 | Permalink

      I’m not following. How did you end up blaming Neil for this?

      Are you familiar with the first rule of holes?

      http://cheezburger.com/View/3037631488

      • 2011-05-16 06:20:53 GMT+0000 - 06:20 | Permalink

        I don’t blame Neil for the infelicitous wording of the original version of my post. I am truly sorry, as I said as soon as the gaffe in the wording was pointed out to me. That is entirely my fault, no one else’s.

    • 2011-05-16 06:18:32 GMT+0000 - 06:18 | Permalink

      When I make a note to indicate I have edited a post after I have reason to think someone has read it I do not think I am being nit picking but courteous and honest.

    • 2011-05-16 06:19:51 GMT+0000 - 06:19 | Permalink

      Smijer’s comment was/is made to look foolish. So you do not apologize for your falsehoods about what Doherty wrote? Or for your incompetent use of mistranslations or suppressing alternative valid translations to attack Doherty?

      • 2011-05-16 06:24:47 GMT+0000 - 06:24 | Permalink

        That’s like me asking you if you are sorry for beating your wife. I did not engage in any falsehoods about what Doherty wrote, and I do not see how my apologizing to Smijer made his comment look foolish.

  • 2011-05-16 10:36:13 GMT+0000 - 10:36 | Permalink

    McGrath, I have never faulted you for apologizing for your error, nor have I ever faulted you for making a mistake as a result of a “late night” situation. Nor have I ever used your failure to proofread as evidence of your “thoroughgoing incompetence”.

    The criticisms against you in this post and comments, and with respect to your related post and comments, are that you:

    1. accused Doherty of “for the most part lumping all the NT epistles together” — and I have posted the evidence to belie that accusation of yours;

    2. your failure to address or apologize in response to that evidence belying your accusations;

    3. your failure to have the courtesy or respect for your readers that would suggest you make it clear when you have re-written part of a post that was earlier read and responded to by others, so that all readers can clearly see the context of their earlier discussion (If I have been corrected for something I write I do make such notes so people can understand what has happened);

    4. your failure to address (as far as I am aware) the fact that Doherty makes clear his debt to other scholars contrary to your insinuation;

    5. your failure to address (as far as I am aware) the fact that you used mistranslations or tendentiously selective translations of the Greek in order to attack Doherty’s argument.

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