I don’t really do comedy so I start out with a very serious link to an even more substantively serious article: The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science by Chris Mooney. It’s a four page article so don’t forget to continue after reading page one. It explains what most people reading this blog understand anyway, but there are some ideas that are always welcome for a return visit. But if you insist on its return being brief here is its conclusion:
In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.
For the more indulgent here are a few more excerpts – tabled to facilitate a quick bypass:
|In other words, when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers(PDF).Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial. . . . .
And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument.In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.
But here is some sure evidence that in the studies of Christian origins scholarly intestines are quite often more active than cranial synapses.
All of the arguments below are taken from scholars who are opposed to the Christ Myth argument. Let’s re-word that. They are taken from scholars who for all I know are opposed to “any and every” Christ Myth argument. They are presumably, then, arguments that anti-mythicists can take seriously IF they are discussed within a context that is not threatening to their fundamental paradigms. Presumably they need only be dismissed with subjective epithets like “unpersuasive” or “too sceptical” if they come as part of a mythicist’s kit. If they come from the pen of “scholars” who do not question the historicist paradigm they may be described as scholarly arguments and their proponents may be called scholars. But if they are found in the writings of those who argue for a different origin of Christianity more ribald descriptors can be found.
But every one of the following arguments is soundly attacked without quarter when the one using them is suspected of elsewhere entertaining mythicist sympathies:
- Scholarly argument that Paul received the words of Jesus at the Last Supper by revelation and not from apostles who had known Jesus: see pp 113-114 of The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity by Hyam Maccoby.
- Scholarly argument that many of the Gospel narratives are entirely metaphorical and not based on historical memories at all: see a discussion of the range of scholars who hold this view in Dale C. Allison Jr’s Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination and History, pp 437-8 and footnote 7. This includes scholars who argue the entire Passion scene is midrash or creative fiction.
- (Many scholars, including Allison himself, refer to such narratives as “midrash” or a specific type of midrash known as “haggadah”. But at least one scholar has ridiculed mythicists when they use the same word for their supposed ignorance of its meaning. Yet this scholar failed to respond to requests for clarification of his accusation when it was pointed out to him that his scholarly peers used the word no differently.)
- Scholarly arguments that Jesus was not baptized by John the Baptist: see discussions of Burton Mack, Willian Arnal and Leif E. Vaage here.
- Scholarly arguments that Jesus did not “cleanse the temple”: see discussions by Burton Mack (pp. 291-292) and Paula Fredriksen (p. 210) or here.
- Scholarly acceptance that Robert Price’s argument that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is to be taken “seriously”: pp. 18-19 of William O. Walker’s Interpolations in the Pauline Letters.
- Scholarly argument (or at least one by a serious student writing against mythicism) for the plausibility of “James the Lord’s Brother” being an interpolation: see James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation.
- Paul deliberately shunned the concept of a historical Jesus: see Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus.
There are no doubt others. I am sure I had more in mind before I started this post. I recently posted on a scholarly publication that argues Jesus was not a teacher — and quoted two scholars (Gerd Ludemann and Stevan Davies) who have made this point.
The irony becomes farcical when my own arguments concerning historical methodology are dismissed as mythicist nonsense when they are in fact nothing more than an enunciation of the principles used by historians generally across all historical studies (historical Jesus studies being probably the one notable exception). Even quoting Albert Schweitzer’s words summing up his own acknowledgment of the validity of the method despite its failure to give theoretical support for a historical Jesus only elicits rebuke from various quarters. I can recall at least three scholars who have told it is shameful to mention Schweitzer’s name in a post that also includes a mention of Earl Doherty, for example — even though Doherty does not even address the method. It is not the rationality or validity of the argument that offends.
Even scholar Richard Carrier is castigated for arguing a point that at least one scholar feared could be used in favour of mythicism. Fortunately, however, Carrier is a fellow scholar so an apology was forthcoming when it was pointed out that the post addressed neither mythicism nor historicism and the author even felt the matter could even more strongly support historicism.
Meanwhile, serious scholarship can reliably inform us of such intimate details of Jesus’ life and training under John the Baptist. Such extrapolations from generic sociological and psychological interpretations are some of the first things we learned to eschew in my own formal studies of history. Some Jesus scholars still have a little way to go to catch up with such basics.
Mary knew that her own survival depended upon her ability to climb the social ladder, and she was shrewd enough to do it. More importantly, she actually believed that her son was destined for great things. It is only natural for a mother to project high aspirations onto her oldest son. But if you asked her, Jesus’ path to the top was divinely preordained.
Jesus had never known life without absurd expectations. His mother was convinced that he would be a leader like Moses. Like Moses! The expectations could hardly have been higher or more unreasonable. Moses was the archetypical liberator, lawgiver — mediator of the very acts of God! Did she really want him to do miracles, divine signs?
Mary knew that her son just needed a nudge. Moses provided water from a dry rock in the wilderness, so why couldn’t her son turn water into wine? . . . .
Jesus did his best to distance himself from his mother and brothers. . . . (pp. 51-52 of Historical Jesus: What Can We Know and How Can We Know It? by Anthony Le Donne.
This is not history. This is little more than a Jesus-studies equivalent of a pop psychologist dissecting the story of Cinderella.
John taught Jesus and his other disciples to meditate on Ezekiel’s vision of the Chariot. . . . Jesus learned to become Ezekiel’s text, embody its imagery, and master (as John had before him) the many other complex texts within Jewish tradition . . . As Jesus mastered the techniques of envisioning the Chariot, John began to teach him the secrets of God’s Spirit, which flowed from the Chariot through all creation. (Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography by Bruce Chilton)
Again, this is not history. It is imaginative stream of consciousness by means of haloes — the halo effect gone psychedelic.
As I posted recently, since there is no secure starting place for historical Jesus studies it all depends on where one enters the circle. (Scholars say that — it’s not a mythicist quote.)
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
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