Doherty’s response to McGrath’s “review” of chapter 9

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by Neil Godfrey

In response to McGrath’s “review” of chapter 9 of Earl Doherty’s book Doherty has written the following response. (I note that McGrath in comments on his blog justified his failure to address any of Doherty’s actual arguments in his review by labeling them all as “wrapping” to sell an unsuspecting reader a bogus product. Since McGrath likes to bring in comparisons with Creationism, it is worthwhile pointing out that it is Creationists who dismiss arguments through scoffing and it is evolutionists who have no reason to misrepresent Creationist arguments — the facts they present speak for themselves.)

Doherty’s response:

Jim: “thus far the essence of Doherty’s “case” has been a combination of saying that there are no hints of a historical Jesus in the epistles, combined with a postponement of discussion of counter-evidence.”

Once again, Jim, you are guilty of misrepresenting my arguments, falsifying what I say, and then thinking to discredit your own straw men. You really do need to read me more carefully. But I know that you are so blinded by your rabid animosity toward mythicism and mythicists that you just charge ahead and (mis)represent me in whatever way suits you best.

I did not make any blanket statement that “there are no hints of an historical Jesus in the epistles.” The subject matter you were responding to related to those descriptions of the Son such as we find in Colossians 1:15-20, Hebrews 1:1-3 and so on. Let me quote right from your above review:

“As is widely known, two key aspects of Wisdom in Jewish thought – pre-existence and a mediatorial role in creation – are also attributed to Christ in the New Testament – although the precise passages and their precise meaning are in fact topics of significant ongoing discussion among scholars.

Since none of the above is in dispute between mythicists and those who hold other viewpoints, let me turn attention to the heart of the matter as relates to the subject of mythicism. Doherty writes on p.94 that the “fallacy” of the widespread view that the aforementioned ideas are being applied to a historical Jesus is that “No identification with a human man is ever made, no writer gives us even a hint that an “application” to an historical Jesus is anywhere in their minds. As suggested earlier, scholars are guilty of reading into the text things they find hard to believe are not there.” “

By the time you got to your next paragraph, you apparently forgot that I was in fact talking specifically about descriptions and characteristics of the Son such as you outline above: things like pre-existence and a mediatorial role in creation, unifying and sustaining the universe and triumphing over the demons, ‘mythological’ features (a term which even mainstream scholars use in such contexts), the sort of features we find in those passages I just itemized. Where do you find a hint of an identification of such a Son with the Gospel Jesus in passages like Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:7-10 or Hebrews 1:1-3? Where is the vast difference between Hellenistic descriptions of the Logos and those of the Christian Son, namely that this Christian ‘Logos’ was incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth on earth? Isn’t that an important distinction, not to mention advantage? What about the difference between personified Wisdom as God’s intermediary (who was also said to “dwell among men” without being incarnated in a human body—did you miss that?) and the Son/Christ as God’s intermediary? Is it feasible that every epistle writer giving us a description of God’s emanation who filled some of the same roles as Wisdom and the Logos would fail to mention that one little trifling point, that he had been recently incarnated, on earth, as a full human being, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (or whatever one wants to call him).

Even in a Christological hymn like Phil. 2:6-11, there is not the slightest identification with a known or recent human man. Did you not notice that? This “hint” only repeats that constant motif we find throughout the epistles (and even outside them), that the Son, in performing his redeeming act of death and rising, took on the ‘semblance, likeness’ of flesh/humanity. Odd language, considering that alongside it no writer ever actually says he was a full human being, that he took on this ‘likeness to flesh’ on earth, or lived a life, much less provide a time, place and human identity for this ‘likeness.’ I guess that doesn’t even pique your curiosity.

There is no dishonesty here, and no lies, if you will simply read my book as it is written. If there is any dishonesty involved, it is your misrepresentation of what I write. And I am sure we are all getting tired of your constant mantra that I “postpone” evidence which would destroy my case. That would be pretty stupid of me, don’t you think, to ignore evidence in the early stages of the book that in later stages I simply wouldn’t have any means of countering or reinterpreting? Who would I be fooling, and for how long, if when I got to “born of woman” and the like I had no way of preventing it from washing away all the material I had dealt with thus far, as you seem convinced is going to happen? (You are already blustering about me going to “explain away” such conclusive evidences for historicism, and we’ll see about that, although I notice you hedging your bets by calling them “apparent references” to an HJ.) Your objection makes absolutely no sense and is getting very tedious.

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24 thoughts on “Doherty’s response to McGrath’s “review” of chapter 9”

  1. http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/defining-mythicism-paul-jesus-and-understanding-the-context/

    Tom Verenna has some good comments here

    It seems James McGrath has done the usual apologist trick of adding some English words not found in the Greek , and then putting them in bold because he considers them vital to his case.

    It has to sting when it is pointed out to a Bible scholar that his case rests on words not found in the Greek text.

    Surely McGrath would have known that to make his case, he had to a) add words not in the Greek, and b) put them in bold to try to emphasise the importance of words entirely missing from the Greek.

    But it only emphasises how weak his case is.

    He actually has to change the Biblical text to try to make his case stronger, but in so doing he only draws attention to the fact that Hebrews does not say what he is trying to make it say, and that the text differs from what he would like it to say , if it supported him.

    1. Steven,

      It’s not James who translated the Greek into English, he probably pulled it from a translation. Normally the modern translations are decent, and understandably he used that and trusted it. The problem is that the Greek for these verses are varied depending on which manuscript the translation favored and how they chose to translate the passage; sometimes context is added which isn’t there.

      Still, you are right, he should have known. Regardless, what is done is done and I think the point was made that had to be made.

      1. Doherty has been crucified for supposedly using an inexact translation (the charge turned out to be false, but the belief that he did so left him no mercy). McGrath has constantly complained how superficial Doherty is with his knowledge and treatment of the sources, including the biblical texts, so his own use of an inexact translation is inexcusable. Had McGrath conducted himself professionally from the beginning with his discussions with mythicism this would not be an issue. Would you come to the defence of Doherty were the shoe on the other foot like this?

        1. Neil, don’t be silly. I’m not letting James go on anything; if I feel he steps over the line I try to bring it to his attention. But what do you expect? You know James’ position. It should not come as a surprise to you. I’m in the middle on the subject of historicity and I think I see both sides pretty clearly. That being said, I don’t think James is being any harder on mythicists than mythicists are against historicists.

          1. ‘….I don’t think James is being any harder on mythicists than mythicists are against historicists.’

            Say that again when Doherty or Wells claim to be able to read lost Aramaic wax tablets better than people who allegedly had them in front of them :-).

          2. “I don’t think James is being any harder on mythicists than mythicists are against historicists.”

            Your head is surely in the sand! I cannot believe you would allow McGrath to carry on one minute with minimalists the way he does with mythicists. And you would see clearly the difference between minimalists’ and McGrath’s manner. What respect do you have for your own field if you tolerate the way McGrath carries on?

            Your politician speak — evading the issue of Doherty and McGrath personally — by shifting your reply to a generic “mythicists” and “mythicists” is the sort of evasion McGrath uses to avoid accountability in what he says. You are learning well.

          3. Tom: “That being said, I don’t think James is being any harder on mythicists than mythicists are against historicists.”

            Respectfully, may I direct your attention to Exhibit A:


            Now, I realize later in the comments McGrath’s toadies will say he’s engaging in hyperbole for effect, but take note of that first sentence: “I am struck once again by how similar the repeated assertion by Earl Doherty and other mythicists that ‘there is no evidence for a historical Jesus’ resembles the similar-sounding claim of creationists that there is ‘no evidence for evolution.'”

            The only admirable thing about that sentence is the number of fallacies he managed to pack into it. He is, of course, once again inventing a claim by the other side, only to tear it down. Ironically, this is a common tactic of Creationists, who say things like, “Evolution can’t explain abiogenesis.” (I’m stretching the truth a bit here; Creationists normally won’t use that word.) Indeed, the theory of evolution by natural selection only attempts to explain how species arise. Or they say, “Evolution says we got here by random chance,” which is (as Dawkins has to remind them over and over) flat-out wrong.

            Do you know of any mythicists who continually present straw-man arguments to knock down with gusto while their minions and fanboys egg them on? The equivalent might be to say, “Those historicists think every word of the New Testament is true.” Or worse, mythicists might paint all historicists with a broad brush, and lump them with a group of unscientific quacks. “Those historicists are just like the flat-earthers.” Finally, they might throw their arms up and start spewing random epithets. Who does this?

            More to the point, let’s ignore the pajama-clad amateurs like me who sit in their dank basements, posting anonymous blog comments. Do you know of any public mythicist scholars who engage in these tactics? I’m not talking irreverence and vulgarity (which Carrier sometimes uses for comedic effect), but outright intellectual dishonesty.

            These are all tactics that James uses on his Matrix — straw men, lumping, personal attacks, and jeering are his primary weapons. I expect that from random bullies on the web. But a public intellectual ought to be held to a higher standard.

            Finally, and this was the last straw for me, if a scholar writes an Amazon book review in which he publicly and stridently tears down a work that he has not read, he loses all credibility. Do you know of any mythicist scholar who has written a precognitive, calumnious book review on Amazon? (This is not a rhetorical question.)

            1. ‘Do you know of any mythicists who continually present straw-man arguments to knock down with gusto while their minions and fanboys egg them on?’

              Yes, Acharya S and the Zeitgeist mythicists.

              1. Tom Verenna has written (naively, in my view, but that is forgivable) that he equates the scientific method itself with the academic publishing processes. But less forgivable is that, without even having read Rene Salm’s book, he has web-posted the very same sorts of ignorant falsehoods and insults as McGrath has leveled at Doherty and others, also without reading their works or being able to outline their arguments in anything but their own straw man versions.

                The past and youth are forgivable, but quite some time ago I asked Tom if he still holds these views or wishes to retract them and I am still waiting to receive a reply to that particular query.

                Tom on his blog has more recently given the same excuse as Stephanie Fisher has given for the likes of McGrath and West: that is, in effect, that these are really very nice chaps when you get to know them personally. I am sure they are. So this excuses their public discarding of basic human respect and scholarly standards when targeging those who hold views they detest? And those who just happen to judge them at their public word are at fault for failing to realize that behind those ad hominems and misrepresentions is really a very nice chap?

                And Tom’s reply above pointing to certain mythicists (e.g. Zeitgeists) demonstrates my point about his using the same tactic of politician-speak in his response to me earlier. When I spoke about McGrath’s unprofessional attacks on Doherty’s book and even on Doherty personally, Tom avoids (and thereby implicitly excuses) the issue by replying that “mythicists” have given “historicists” as hard a time as they have received themselves.

                This is what I meant by remaining silent in the face of clear, demonstrable and unequivocal abuse of one’s status as a public intellectual. Tom’s silence when faced directly with this question implies complicity. His apparent failure to renounce his own irresponsible and ignorant attacks on Salm’s book without even having read it is as reprehensible as anything we see from McGrath himself. (Sorry, no it is not as bad as McGrath’s standards. McGrath is a fully qualified academic and professor.)

                I am quite sure Tom, James et al are all very nice people to have a drink and discuss the weather with, and that they are the most congenial of folks at conferences and, by and large, hold themselves to the right professional dealings with one another. But when faced with outside critiques — like people who have one respectable persona in their public lives but have “issues” when back at home — outright intellectual dishonesty and malicious slander are, well, not unknown.

                I understand that if one wants to get ahead in a guild one must play the game. Hoffmann has acknowledged that the reason the question of the nonhistoricity of Jesus is not more on the agenda among scholars has more to do with concern for security of academic appointments than “common sense”. So I understand that to be accepted into the club one must learn to think a certain way. But that club is only showing its tribal side when some of its members can crucify certain targeted incorrect outsiders while the rest of its members find excuses to remain silent.

      2. Well, normally English translations are only illustrative of the text and using a translation like McGrath did would not be something to object to.

        But McGrath decided to put into bold words which Tom points out are not in the Greek. If you are going to emphasise words, you need the words to be there.

        Putting a special emphasis on words which are not there highlights the lack of text which backs up your case.

      3. Tom, your straining of Steven Carr’s gnat in the face of McGrath’s outrageous abuse of his position as an academic to pour abuse, insult, twisting of our words, malicious mirepresentations upon Doherty (and myself), — no matter what anyone’s views on the mythicism matter — is as skewed and lopsided as I can imagine any response could possibly be. Why have you or any of your academic friends remained so muted while one who claims to be representing your guild behaves so intolerably. Would McG’s peers stand by silently if he were venting his spleen on Q scholars or minimalists? Or does his target of mythicism excuse him in the eyes of other biblical scholars?

            1. That’s what it seems to me as well.

              Of course,McGrath puts huge store in the vast difference between one preposition and another, accusing people of behaving like Holocaust deniers if they don’t read one preposition exactly the way he does.

              And yet, we see that honest people can disagree over the meaning of the Greek text.

              1. I’m looking into it because I think it is important to recognize that, if the context of a verse can be changed by deciding upon which verb a phrase is strengthening, we are less sure of certain translations than we sometimes think. But even if the phrase does clarify the way James suggests, it doesn’t change the overall point of my post. All it means is that I will have to be more careful in the future with how I explain things; of course I will apologize to James if I am completely wrong. It depends on the Greek, at this point. Unfortunately, I am not sure which manuscript is useful and which is not.

              2. Tom, I think the less-strained reading would apply “κατὰ πάντα” to “ὁμοιωθῆναι.” Given the word order, one could argue (as you did on your blog) that the author of Hebrews meant to say, “Where he was obligated, in accordance with all things…” However, I think it’s more natural to use the more common translation “in all things” or “in every way,” which would fit better with “made like his brethren.”

                That rendering would fit well with the idea that this verse is an allusion to the two goats from the Day of Atonement — alike in all respects, but suffering different fates.

              3. Tom: “Unfortunately, I am not sure which manuscript is useful and which is not.”

                Tim: I don’t have ready access to manuscript facsimiles, other than the Codex Sinaiticus on line. However, as far as I can tell, only Tischendorf has “κατά πᾶς ὁ ἀδελφός.” Everybody else seems content with “κατὰ πάντα.” Hebrews 2:17 isn’t mentioned in Metzger’s textual commentary, nor do I see any footnotes in my USB Greek NT.

                All that being said, I agree with you that the emphasis should be on the fact Jesus been “made to resemble” the human form, not that he was human.

              4. Yes, Tim, I think you’re quite right here. I have conceded this to James, but I don’t think his rendering is accurate, and I plan to make some clarifications on my blog as soon as I can get to it to type it up. I appreciate your comments here.

    1. Jouras: “Come on, you all know that.”

      I don’t know that. But then again, I can’t read people’s minds or peer into the hearts of men. Way back when I had an imaginary friend who rose from the dead, I thought I could, but it was all part of the delusion.

  2. Tom Verenna: “‘Do you know of any mythicists who continually present straw-man arguments to knock down with gusto while their minions and fanboys egg them on?’

    Yes, Acharya S and the Zeitgeist mythicists.”

    Name them rather than make empty accusations. You probably haven’t read the New Zeitgeist Part 1 Sourcebook (2010)

    Neil Godfrey: “[Tom Verenna’s] apparent failure to renounce his own irresponsible and ignorant attacks on Salm’s book without even having read it is as reprehensible as anything…”

    Tom does the exact same with Acharya’s books. He has never read her books yet, smears both her work and her personally at every opportunity. From where I stand, Tom Verenna is one of the most intellectually dishonest I’ve ever seen. Maybe that’s why he and McGrath are like bosom buddies? – quite low on the integrity level. Neither one of them have the ability to discuss Acharya’s newly created mythicist position in any honest, sincere or objective way.

    The Mythicist Position – video

    1. Tom posted a personal response to me under the title “On the Doherty-McGrath-Godfrey Exchange” but I only noticed it after following up an email notice a third party sent me some time ago. It is normal etiquette to link to a blog post one is criticizing but Tom had overlooked doing this so I was late for my own party. And it was my party as I belatedly discovered — despite the title, the post was all about Tom’s thoughts about me.

      But he did himself no favours when he repeated his self-congratulatory claim that he has actually said on his blog that McGrath uses unfortunate language at times while at the same time (as he has also said in elsewhere in his posts) that he agrees with McGrath’s comparisons of mythicists with creationists! He further admitted he had not read Salm’s book but continued to justify his blatantly untrue description of it on his youtube video.

      Then he says he is sorry I have not won his favour as the “even-handed” gentleman he tries so hard to be. (Oh, even-handed man that he is, he also explained that all those nasty things others say about me is all my own fault for being an “isolationist”.)

      There is much talk of “scholarly” in his post as if it is a holy word. He has much to learn about how the game is played in real life. One biblical scholar who has read and understood some of Noam Chomsky’s model of how elites in various quarters are conditioned to think in a certain way (in order to become part of the club) might have something to contribute, too. Unfortunately, I get the impression they can only see how it works in other disciplines or institutions and not in their own. My point on that score flew completely over Tom’s head. He is young, and is being conditioned very well to know how to play the game.

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