Daily Archives: 2011-06-21 23:02:51 UTC

The fallacy that invalidates historical Jesus studies, conspiracy theories and creationism

“You aren’t allowed to make up your own facts.”

That’s a brilliant piece of wisdom that is lost on many of us from time to time because a certain familiarity with habitual ways of thinking prevents us from seeing that we sometimes really do just make up our own facts — or at least just accept “facts” that others have simply made up for us.

The words come from The Uncensored Bibe by Kaltner, McKenzie and Kilpatrick after they have presented an original argument that explains that bizarre episode in Exodus where God is said to meet Moses on his return to Egypt and tries to kill him, following which his wife Zipporah circumcises her infant son, tosses the foreskin at Moses and accuses him of being a bloody husband — after which God leaves him alone. This, at least, is one way the passage is translated for us. But as the authors explain, the original is riddled with so many unlinked pronouns no one can be really sure how to translate the passage, let along make any sense of the story.

A suicidal Moses

The occasion of the opening passage — “You aren’t allowed to make up your own facts” — is the explanation of Pamela Tamarkin Reis. She suggests the confusing phrases are not intended to be understood literally but are idiomatic expressions. They indicated, Reis says, that Moses was contemplating suicide. He had presented himself until this moment as an Egyptian fugitive of high standing, but on his return to Egypt after being called by a voice out of a burning bush, he had to face up to his being a Hebrew and one with a slave people. His wife, Zipporah, mocked him by performing a circumcision on their son in contempt. read more »

How doing real (nonbiblical) history compares with historical Jesus studies: a case study

In the process of moving recently I discovered one of my long-boxed copies of a history book researching the lives of renegade leaders of small bands generally considered to be Robin Hood type bandits. What is interesting about this particular field of history, and that is worthy of note among those interested “how history works” in fields other than among theologians and other biblical scholars studying the historical Jesus, is the way the historian treats literary evidence of legendary tales of famous outlaws.

The earliest figure in the literature referenced is Robin Hood himself. But the historian does not discuss Robin Hood as a historical figure at all.

For the purposes of this book Robin Hood is pure myth. As it happens, though ballads about him go back to the fourteenth century, he was not commonly regarded as a hero until the sixteenth century. The question whether a real Robin Hood existed, or what medieval English bands were like in the greenwoods, must be left to experts in the history of the Middle Ages. (p. 46, Bandits, 2000)

This historian is interested in investigating the careers of real people who can be established as having existed and acted in real history quite apart from the legends told about them. read more »