It is a sad thing to see scholars who are doctors and associate professors and holders of chairs demonstrate a complete muddleheadedness and inability to grasp the simplest of logical arguments when attempting to gainsay mythicist challenges to the historical Jesus paradigm.
One such scholar continues to insist that Earl Doherty has constructed an argument from a false antithesis: to the best of my understanding — and I have asked the scholar many times to clarify his position — Doherty is said to argue that 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 must mean
- EITHER that earthly rulers killed Christ
- OR that demons themselves directly killed Christ
- so the possibility that the verse means demons influenced human rulers to do the dirty deed must be excluded.
But this criticism, as far as I can determine, completely fails to address anything and everything that Doherty argues across several pages in relation to this question. Pages of argument are simply ignored. (And not only “pages”. Doherty explains in the chapter reviewed by the scholar that he will be exploring additional supportive arguments in the ensuing chapters.)
What I think can justify this criticism is that Doherty concludes, on the basis of argument, that Paul was thinking of option #2, and that the critic might fault Doherty’s reasoning that leads to such a conclusion.
But unfortunately the critic does not do this.
Firstly, Doherty argues (and in the process includes supporting references in the mainstream scholarly literature) that “rulers of this age” was a reference to demonic powers. Some scholars have preferred to interpret the phrase to mean earthly rulers who are swayed by the spirit of the age but there are valid arguments against this interpretation that a significant number of mainstream scholars follow, as does Doherty.
Probably all those scholars also believe that even though Paul was thinking of demons, he also understood that they acted though human agencies. That is where Doherty parts company with them. This is where he writes that sentence that so offended his critic:
“The suggestion that since earthly rulers are considered to be controlled by heavenly ones the latter are seen as operating “through” the former is simply reading the idea into the text” (p.106).
The critic describes this notion as “bizarre”.
But later in follow up discussions he appeared to concede that yes, there really is no explicit statement indicating that the passage in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 says that the crucifixion was the work of earthly rulers in an earthly setting:
It has taken some time for me to get back to this discussion. Neil Godfrey noted that there is nothing explicit in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 to indicate a terrestrial location for the crucifixion. I wonder whether Neil and/or Earl Doherty would agree that neither is there anything explicitly (or implicitly but clearly) indicating a celestial location for what Paul is referring to, either.
I responded that I fully agreed that there is nothing in the passage that indicates a celestial or other nonhistorical setting or location either.
My argument — and Doherty’s — is that there is absolutely nothing in the passage itself that indicates a setting of any kind, earthly or otherwise.
Any notion that the passage implies demons are working through human agencies must be brought into the text by the reader on the basis of other evidence and reasoning.
Now of course it is the most natural thing in the world for modern readers to assume that Paul is “clearly”, “obviously”, “naturally” implying that the demons are working through human agencies. To suggest anything else strikes modern readers as “bizarre” — the word used by this critic himself.
Where else could a crucifixion take place? You can’t have a crucifixion in heaven for Vulcan’s sake! Everyone knows Romans did the crucifying ergo . . . .
Unfortunately our critic cannot accept any possibility that all of this is fundamentally interpreting Paul through modern eyes. His modern bias shows again when he explains that he believes one should always accept the “apparent meaning” of Paul’s words (“apparent” to whom? to his 21st century mostly Christian students?):
I always tell my students both to be open to the possibility that an author’s work has tensions within it, but also to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume that their various expressions made sense to them, appealing to self-contradiction only as a last resort.
I also think that one should treat an author’s use of clear vocabulary and grammatical phrases as meaning what they appear to unless it is impossible to do so, which of course Doherty does not do with terms like “born” and phrases like “brother of.”
I wonder that Elaine Pagels can get away with suggesting that Paul’s words need not be read this way but that Doherty who is much more conservative in his reading of the text cannot. Such little contradictions as these remind us that the real issue is anti-mythicist bias.
When we think about the critic’s argument, it is clear that he cannot conceive of any alternative understanding of 1 Corinthians 2:6-8.
It is also clear from his above comment that his mind is chained by his faith in “apparent” meanings of “born” and “brother of”.
Doherty’s fault is not that he argues for an alternative way of reading Paul (one that is freed from the “tyranny of the Gospels”). The critic does not address Doherty’s arguments. He shows no interest in them or ability to comprehend them. Rather, he faults Doherty for his conclusions. And to strengthen his criticism and denigration of mythicism he even denies that Doherty’s statements are conclusions of extensive arguments. He writes instead of
Doherty’s setting up of a false antithesis between celestial powers being involved in the crucifixion and earthly powers being involved
The arguments themselves (I avoid repeating them here) have been addressed in my own responses (here, here, here, here, with Earl Doherty’s response here and here) to Dr McGrath’s review. Curiously, Dr McGrath continues to say I fail to address his review or what Doherty himself writes! Other times when I point out his failure to address what Doherty writes he accuses me of “spending my waking hours pondering Doherty’s words and seeking to weave them into the fabric of my being and embed them in my memory!” :-/
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