In response to Dr James McGrath’s post on Mythicism and Peer Review Earl Doherty wrote the following:
Jim, you are a piece of work. I only wish that your mindless animosity toward the idea that, just possibly, the Christian record could represent something which two thousand years of hidebound and confessionally-driven tradition could never have brought itself to envision, was a rarity. But you are legion, and such animosity is hardly a dispassionate, scientifically founded position. Your counters to my arguments have been consistently naïve and pathetically lame, misunderstanding and misrepresenting my case, loaded with emotional prejudice and just about every fallacy in the book. And you’ve now added that voice to the farcical question of peer review.
This idea of “peer” review is a joke in NT scholarship. The latter is a closed and privileged club, with boundaries that cannot be crossed (witness the failure of The Jesus Project), and no journal or publisher within that field is going to give mythicism the time of day. There would be no more possibility of an unbiased and effective review of a mythicist’s work than what you’ve given mine, and mythicists know that. You know it as well. The very idea that centuries of scholarship could have been based on a serious misinterpretation of the record is so abhorrent even to so-called critical scholars (there may be the rare exception, Mack or Ludemann for example), that no honest review is possible. You’ve shown that. And considering that people like you represent a good part of the general readership of such journals and publications, no journal or publication would risk the firestorm they would create in accepting and publishing mythicist viewpoints.
An interested party (not a mythicist) in the U.S. several years ago offered The Fourth R publication of Westar/the Jesus Seminar a donation of $5000 if they would devote part of an issue to mythicism, consisting of an article by myself presenting my case and a rebuttal article by any scholar of their own choosing. They turned it down. The editor claimed, “No one who believes Jesus never existed can be persuaded otherwise!” (Which, of course, was not the purpose, but talk about pots and kettles!) And the subject was declared as of no interest (read: too objectionable) to its readership. But that’s not the point. Here was a good (and profitable) opportunity for historicism to deal a death blow to its long-term nemesis, or at least to trash it the way it has always been claimed can be done so easily. Here was a chance to give mythicism that “peer review” you would like to see it given. I guess you would consider as legitimate peer review an out and out denial of a voice to the very topic itself! (After all, you’ve said that you refuse to present any positive element of my case since it would supposedly grant it some kind of legitimacy. That’s honest ‘peer review’?)
This business of demanding of mythicists that they be peer reviewed, and then taunted and consigned to fraud and charlatanry when they are not, is as transparent as they come. Until the concept of Jesus being a non-historical character is regarded as a legitimate offering within the field of NT study and is addressed on that basis (even if argued against, which is equally legitimate), the idea of peer review of mythicism is an oxymoron, and we all know it. You and yours demand peer review because you know it is simply not possible. It is blatantly designed to serve your own purposes, which is the height of duplicity on your part.
When I commented that “maybe I’ll finally get my ‘peer review’,” I was quite obviously being ironic and sarcastic. The only “review” I would ever get from any of the “peers” you have in mind would be one by someone who approaches my book from the a priori position of condemning and rejecting it and sets out to trash it in the most unabashedly biased way. Just as you yourself have approached your review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man.
So let’s not hear any more about the sham that is the idea of ‘peer review’. Having defined mythicism as charlatanry, having closed and barred the gates of your discipline to any consideration of Jesus not being an historical figure, having nominated as the only allowable “peers” those with predeterminedly hostile views toward the very idea, you’ve loaded the deck and then think to blame and condemn us for failing to make any headway in the game. If you can’t see the utter dishonesty in that kind of farce, and the disgrace it is to the concept of genuine and open-minded scholarship, you are beneath contempt.
McGrath replied as per usual, to which Doherty added:
Jim says: “I understand that you take the criticisms of your ideas personally…”
No, because what is thrown at me here is not “criticism.” In a scholarly context, “criticism” is—or should be—defined as “the act or occupation of analyzing and evaluating a literary or artistic work” (one of the definitions in Webster’s College Dictionary). “Analyzing and evaluating” in an honest and objective fashion backed by evidence and scholarly argumentation—rather than foaming at the mouth with preconceived hostility, blanket condemnation and ad hominem attacks. Let’s look at some of the ‘criticisms’ voiced here since my earlier posting:
“Bart (as you & I did) will be very unlikely to accept Doherty’s mythicist non-sense which is based on dubious, weak, biased & convoluted so-called interpretations.” (Bernard)
Objective? Informative? Serious scholarly tone and integrity backed up by substance? Hardly.
“Your stance on peer review in history and religious studies is much like the stance of creationists on peer review in the natural sciences” (Jim)
Do you think that your review of my book thus far is on a par with that of respected and renowned evolutionary scientists when dealing with creationism? I have never seen them adopting a tone anything like yours, and they certainly back up their defense of evolution by copious and incontrovertible evidence for evolution itself, as well as clearly and powerfully demonstrate the flaws of the creationist ‘case’. Where is your copious and incontrovertible evidence for historicism? “Brother of the Lord can only mean one thing”? LOL! Where is your powerful demonstration of the flaws of mythicism? Associating it with creationism? Appeals to authority? “Doherty deviously postpones contrary evidence”? Where is the sophisticated and convincing rebuttal? “Paul doesn’t mention anything about Jesus’ life and teaching because everyone already knew every detail of it”? Where the integrity? Misrepresenting or ignoring vast swaths of my argument because you don’t want to confer the slightest legitimacy on a theory you viscerally despise? The comparison with creationists is not only invalid on so many levels, it is simply a blatant attempt to manufacture guilt by false association.
“Looking at Doherty’s latest posting, all I can say is: rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric …” (Bernard)
This is counter-argument rebutting my presentation of Jim’s attitude toward peer review for mythicism and its basic dishonesty? Not a shred of it. All bluster and empty words.
“Hell hath no fury like a Mythicist scorned.” (Just Sayin’)
Moderately clever, but contributing nothing except derision.
“I for one am reassured by the unwillingness even of a periodical like The Fourth R to accept bribes in exchange for giving a platform to non-scholarly ideas, even with an opportunity for rebuttal.” (Jim)
A “bribe” to urge a magazine in the field to consider the pros and cons of a longstanding (almost two centuries) minority scholarly conclusion in their own discipline? A “bribe” to ask a leading voice in critical scholarship to address a persistent idea which has been gaining credence and popularity on the public scene, if only to check its spread? Or is it more likely a burying of one’s head in the sand, a fear to rock the boat and jeopardize interests that are anything but scholarly, a realization that their defense against mythicism has about as much substance as the emperor’s new clothes? How does one know that the ideas are non-scholarly if they are never given voice and attention by those who allegedly can decide and demonstrate their scholarly quality or lack of it?
The Fourth R’s refusal to ‘peer review’ mythicism and Jim’s praising of their decision makes a mockery of his demand that mythicism submit to peer review when those “peers” refuse to do so and he supports them. It reveals the legitimacy of everything I said in my earlier post about the farce that the peer review issue raised by Jim really is.
I don’t know if you hacks realize the depth of scholarly depravity to which you have sunk. If we still operated like the Middle Ages, mythicists would not simply be condemned out of hand and treated as pariahs, they would be burned at the stake; and I have no doubt you guys would cheerfully light the kindling. Essentially, you are no better than a milder version of the Inquisition, with no greater scholarly honor or integrity involved than we would accord to the Dominicans, who refused to consider contrary evidence, gave no voice to any witnesses to support the accused, whose idea of rationality was to torture the victim to extract the “truth”, and consigned the condemned heretic to the ultimate wilderness. Not to mention burning their writings. Jim’s views and approach to his review of my book has as much to do with reasoned and capable rebuttal to mythicism as the Pope’s Hounds exercised in rooting out heresy and saving the vested interests of the Catholic Church.
Are any of you familiar with the American composer Charles Ives’ short orchestral piece called “The Unanswered Question”? A questing and questioning trumpet asks a calm and serious question. A chorus of five flutes at first complacently answers. Clearly inadequately, since the trumpet must repeat its question, though it maintains its equanimity. With each repeat of the question (about five times), the flute chorus becomes more and more agitated, condemnatory, it increasingly scoffs and scorns. In the end it is literally foaming at the mouth, wild-eyed with derision. (Ives’ talents are astonishing in creating his musical effects.) That is what historicism, and particularly the flute chorus here, has increasingly become, abdicating any responsibility (or ability) to address an honest and serious questioning, rooted in the evidence, of the historical basis of Christianity, indulging instead in vacuous ridicule and demonization, and an assigning of all heretics to a figurative stake, a fate pre-judged for them from the beginning.
You are not even capable of being ashamed of yourselves.
My own comment on academic publishing: I know something of the publishing world for academic institutions, having worked in academic libraries for quite a few years now. Even though academics might be appointed to editorial boards of publishers, the bottom line is always the $. Publishers are a business, and there is no way they will risk any tarnishing of their image that might undermine their future respectability among their target funders. So even if a few editors were prepared to give mythicism a go they would have to convince the ones who are making the money from the publication. So it is not only a question of academics themselves not wishing to risk a questionable reputation among their peers by espousing a view that is not approved by the guild. The publishing industry itself ensures that it publishes only material that will enhance its image according to the core values and beliefs of their market.
It is amusing also to watch the way publishers flatter the egos of academics by various flatteries and little rewards in return for reviewing books and agreeing to publish for them — and how so often the academic fails to see how they are being manipulated for someone else’s $ benefit. Academic editors of journals really have been known to be over-ridden on rare occasions by the business end — just often enough to make it clear who really is in charge!
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