What else am I to conclude? The evidence McGrath provides for his claim to have read chapter 6 of Doherty’s book is that he can cite names and topics that Doherty uses in that chapter. But at the same time McGrath strongly indicates that he merely glanced at those references and never bothered to read what Doherty was actually arguing. This is surely a kinder criticism than to suggest that McGrath cannot comprehend what he reads or deliberately suppresses what he reads.
Example. McGrath writes:
Doherty proceeds to consider details from the Gospels that he considers it (sic) surprising Paul and other epistle writers never mention in their letters. Often his response to the material borders on the bizarre. Why is it surprising that the later and clearly legendary details in the infancy stories in Matthew and Luke are not reflected in earlier literature? It is unsurprising to mainstream historical scholarship, which is familiar with countless examples of the same phenomenon, namely the development of mythologized birth stories around a historical figure.
I would have expected an honest reviewer to at least give a nod to Doherty’s argument. But not McGrath. He merely repeats the conventional apologetics or wisdom of the prevailing paradigm. He would have done better, I think, to have at least attempted an argument to counter Doherty’s purpose, discussion and conclusions. What Doherty was arguing is outlined in my earlier post on Doherty’s chapter 6.
I would also have expected a Professor and scholar with some intellectual integrity to have been honest with his readers and not attempt to give the impression that there are “countless examples” of mythologized stories attaching themselves only many decades after the death of those historical figures. He surely knows how quickly mythical stories do attach themselves to historical figures, and could have explained to his readers that with the likes of Apollonius of Tyana and Alexander the Great that there is evidence that mythical tales circulated even within the life-times of such figures or almost immediately after their deaths.
I would also have expected a scholarly review of a book to be honest enough to explain the argument of the book, and to explain that Doherty argues why we should expect such mythological tales to have arisen almost immediately of a historical figure who was expected (and believed) to have been the Messiah.
But all McGrath can do is repeat the arguments he learned in NT studies 101 as if on auto-pilot. He is impervious to any new idea that challenges what he has always believed. So much so, that he cannot even see an alternative for what it is. So how can he possibly mount a rebuttal to it?
This is the purpose of Doherty’s chapter 6 in Doherty’s own words:
This survey will . . . demonstrate that Christian documents outside the Gospels, even at the end of the 1st century and beyond, show no evidence that any traditions about an earthly life and ministry of Jesus were in circulation.
“In circulation” — not just (as McGrath misleads readers to think Doherty is arguing) “in earlier literature”.
McGrath failed to read the several instances in chapter 6 where Doherty showed that certain fictitious stories did attach themselves to Jesus as early as the Q source — something McGrath’s own peers date to around the time of Paul’s earlier letters. This simple fact pulls the rug out from McGrath’s auto-pilot “critique”. McGrath has failed to notice this entirely. Doherty has rebutted his argument already but McGrath cannot see it, comprehend it, or repeat it.
As for McGrath’s “arguments” against Doherty on the topics of circumcision and the “brother of the Lord”, it is more of the same. One can see Doherty’s own response on James McGrath’s blog, and the arguments in outline on my own earlier post.
The strongest case McGrath can mount against Doherty is that the entire argument for historicity must rely on a single preposition against the bulk of counter-evidence discussed. Ambiguity and uncertainty in the materials with which we are dealing seems to be something quite inconceivable to McGrath. At least when he needs to jettison ambiguity and uncertainty when this serves his criticism of mythicism.
As one would expect from such a reviewer, when Doherty does branch out into concepts that appear to have never been considered by McGrath (such as the implications of whether a historical Jesus was married or not), McGrath is silent.
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