. . . I think that there can then be problems when one tries to make historical Jesus criteria like multiple attestation, like the criterion of embarrassment, do too much. When you take them beyond the introductory student level, into mainstream work on the historical Jesus — because after all, historians don’t work with a great big tool bag of criteria. Historians don’t, you know, hold up a tradition and say, “OK, let’s kind of dig into the bag and see if we can find a criterion that satisfies this tradition.”
I just don’t think that’s how historians work a lot of the time. History’s much more complex than that. It’s more nuanced; it’s more detailed. We’re looking at things in all sorts of different ways. And so I think we have to be a little bit careful about the way that we react to these kinds of criteria. They can be terribly wooden. They can be excuses often not to think very clearly.
And worst of all, sometimes what historians of the New Testament — sometimes what historical Jesus scholars do — is they’ll take a tradition they rather like the look of subjectively and then they’ll find some criteria that they can use to make it sound like it’s more plausibly historical. So the criteria are often applied after the fact, rather than before the fact. So there’s sort of the appearance of science, the appearance of a sort of scientific validity to what they’re doing. It’s often just an appearance.
This kind of honest discussion is a breath of fresh air. For years now, Vridar has been the lonely voice in the wilderness, warning that the historical Jesus scholars were using their criteria to do too much. Besides trying to use criteria that were designed to assign relative probabilities to determine absolute historicity, we’ve noted here countless times, again and again, that HJ scholars appear to apply the criteria selectively, after the fact in order to prove what they wish to be true.
Kudos to Dr. Goodacre. Maybe the next time we have another friendly tussle with Dr. McGrath, Mark will come to our defense — you know, on the side of right — instead of coming to the aid of a beleaguered fellow member of the guild who has once again gotten in over his head.
Anyone who reads the Bible should read it in context and see how similar the other religious stories about other gods were in those olden days. Anyone who hears an argument for the truth of the Bible and its God should hear the same arguments being advanced to prove the truth of other religious tales and gods in those same ancient times.
Here is myth preserved by a Roman poet, Ovid, about the time two gods visited earth, met a pair of humble mortal god-fearers, performed some miracles familiar to readers of the Bible, and finally rescued them from a general disaster that befell all their neighbours.
Readers familiar with the Bible will be reminded of
heavenly visitors, appearing as mortals, coming to the tent of Abraham and Sarah, and the hospitality that couple lavished on their guests
the general wickedness of mankind highlighting the piety of the pious hero
the heavenly visitors grant what the pious couple most desire
heavenly visitors coming to the house of Lot and rescuing his family from the general destruction by taking them out to a mountain
they turn back to look at the destruction — in the Bible this results in a transforming punishment (salt); in the Roman myth, in a transforming reward (marble)
the pious mourn the destruction of the wicked
the miraculous manner in which a bowl of wine or oil never ran out as it continued to be poured out
the appropriately pious response of those who see this miracle
the changing of a mortal into another element, in the Bible narrative into a pillar of salt
Modern readers may scoff at the possibility of such tales being true. Devout modern readers who believe the Bible may scoff at the same stories being told of the nonbiblical gods and heroes.
the origin myth of Israel being unlike any other national or ethnic origin myth in that it is an etiology of a religious cult
the fact that there has been far more continuity of the population of Palestine than commonly understood
the worship of Yahweh was not unique to any one people in the ancient Near East, nor was Yahweh the sort of god often depicted in the Bible
Jewishness was not a concept that was limited to a particular ethnic group or even “the Jerusalem cult” exclusively, as witnessed by the surviving evidence from diaspora groups
the concept of Israel in the Bible’s narrative is theological and not political or ethnic (prohibitions on mixed marriages were a safeguard for the preservation of the religious cult rather than an ethnic group)
Thompson argues that modern readers have tended to overlook the literary character of the biblical stories and traditions, and the fact that Israel in these stories is a theological (not historical) construct or metaphor. The same misreading applies to the New Testament, too.
This post addresses the second part of Thompson’s argument, the evidence from Josephus and to a lesser extent from Philo.
In book 12 of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus recounts an etiology of the Jews of Egypt from deportations under Ptolemy ‘from the mountains of Judea and from the places about Jerusalem, Samaria and near Mount Gerizim.‘ These he describes as ‘two groups’ — nevertheless Jews all — who dispute about whether they should send their tribute to Jerusalem of to Samaria (Ant. 12.1.1). (p. 259-60, The Mythic Past, my emphasis)
In the first installment, we introduced Wrede’s watershed book on the Gospel of Mark. And watershed is a fairly apt description of The Messianic Secret, since for many scholars it marks a turning point in The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In fact, as you may recall, Albert Schweitzer subtitled his classic work on the quest: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. For Schweitzer (and many others), Wrede signaled the end of the first quest.
If Wrede’s contributions to New Testament studies had such an impact, you would think today’s scholars wouldn’t simply skim over the Messianic Secret, concluding with a dismissive “Nobody believes that anymore.” Even if that were true, we should still like to know why he made such an impact in his day. What was it about the book that caused such a stir when it was published? Why did it have such a lasting effect on NT studies through most of the 20th century? The only way to be sure, I think, is to read Wrede’s work for ourselves. Continue reading “Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (2)”
This post continues Couchoud’s account of the nature of the Christ found in the Book of Revelation and how he epitomizes the “false Christ” that Paul denounced his apostolic rivals for promoting. Couchoud has been tracing the rise of Christianity from the Enochian community in “pre-Christian” times and the evolution of the Christ idea in his work The Creation of Christ. Jesus Christ, he argues was a figure that evolved from meditations of the Jewish Scriptures and related Second Temple apocryphal literature. Paul’s Christ was a heavenly being into whom he projected his own life of sufferings and attributed to them saving power once embodied in God himself. Jesus was really another image or aspect of God himself. But Paul’s rivals were based in Jerusalem and they envisaged a very different sort of Christ. The continuing visions of this conquering and far-from-humiliated Christ by one of those “Jerusalem pillars”, John, is the subject of this post. The previous post in this series examined The Book of Revelation’s damning allusions to Paul’s Christ and teachings. Keep in mind that all of these Christological divisions pre-date any thought that Jesus had visited earth. According to all early prophets and apostles Jesus was an entirely heavenly being whose coming — first coming — was eagerly anticipated by the devout. The complete series is archived here.
John is carried up from earth to heaven where he beholds the glorious setting of the Eternal and Formless God (Rev. iv. 2-6):
Behold a Throne was set in heaven On the Throne was One seated.
He who was seated was in aspect as a Jasper and a Sardius; A Rainbow round about the Throne In sight like an Emerald.
About the Throne were four-and-twenty thrones,; On the thrones were sitting four-and-twenty Elders, Clothed in white raiment, On their heads crowns of gold.
Out of the Throne came lightnings And the crash of thunder. Seven Torches of Fire burned before the Throne Who are the Seven Spirits of God. Before the throne a sea of glass Like a crystal.
Jesus is found to be dwelling in such a setting as this, forever sharing the glory of God’s throne. This Jesus is now described.
John is present at the mysterious liturgy which comes before the great drama. A scroll sealed with seven seals is in God’s hand. None in heaven, nor on earth, nor in hell, can open it. Further on its name is given as the Book of Life, the Book of the Slain Lamb.* [* Rev. xiii. 8 (the Book of the Life of the Lamb) ; xvii. 8 ; xx. 12 (the Book of Life).] This is the complete record on which the names of the elect are inscribed since the beginning of the world. When the seven seals are opened, the judgment will begin. Jesus alone can open them for to him belong the elect. Before the ages he redeemed them with his blood. He is the Sacrificed Lamb of Isaiah, the ram “slain from the beginning of the world” (Rev. xiii. 8; cf. I Peter i. 20: “foreordained before the foundation of the world, ” a corrective to John). He appears in the midst of God’s throne (Rev. v. 6):–
I saw in the midst of the Throne and of the four Cherubim, In the midst of the Elders, A Lamb, as though Slain, With Seven Horns and Seven Eyes, Who are the seven Spirits of God Sent forth into all the Earth.
The Shape of the Lamb is the eternal shape of Jesus. In heaven he is the divine Ram, as Jahweh was originally a divine Bull. The Lamb takes the Book to the sound of a new song (Rev. v. 9-10):–
Thou hast the power to take the Scroll And to open the Seals of it, Because thou wast sacrificed, And bought for God with thy blood Men of every tribe, speech, nation, and race, Whom thou hast made for our God a Kingdom of priests, Who shall reign on Earth.
While the first six seals are being opened, warning events take place (Rev. vi. I) :–
I SAW the Lamb open one of the seven Seals; I HEARD one of the four Cherubim Say in a voice of thunder, Come!
I SAW; behold a white horse; He who rode him Held a Bow. To him was given a Crown: He went forth a conqueror to conquer.
After the conqueror come a red horse, a black horse, a green horse; their riders are war, famine, and pestilence. The martyrs of old whose souls are beneath the heavenly altar cry out to God for vengeance.
Up till now I have attempted to post my own outline and paraphrase of Couchoud’s argument. But I see here I am beginning to quote him in full and for whatever reasons I have decided to scan the remainder of this chapter and copy Couchoud’s words in full for the remainder of this post. This makes it a bit long, but it is out of copyright (hence not illegal) and sharing some of Couchoud’s style (even in translation) as well as his argument may not be a bad thing. I will use the default WordPress fonts and formatting for the full copy of Couchoud’s pages 87 to 108 of The Creation of Christ, Volume 1. The running chapter heading is THE SACRIFICED LAMB. (I have changed some of the coding for the footnotes.) Any bolded text for emphasis and the colour coding for ease of breaking up the text on a computer monitor is my own doing. Continue reading “The Christ of John’s Revelation — Nemesis of Paul’s crucified Christ (Couchoud continued)”
A handful of works in the field of Biblical studies have the reputation of revolutionizing the field. Later scholars refer to them as ground-breaking, game-changing, or seminal. These works arrive on the scene and immediately change the nature of the debate, often providing an entirely new thought framework. More than that, they supply scholars with fuel for generations to come as the original work is reinterpreted, recast, and re-imagined.
Some examples come to mind immediately: Wellhausen′s Prolegomena, D.F. Strauss′s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, and Bultmann′s History of the Synoptic Tradition. These important works in the tradition of historical-critical scholarship have much in common besides being seminal works. First, they often unwittingly create a cottage industry for apologetic rebuttals. Dreadful little pamphlets and books hit the street almost immediately that attempt to debunk the new perspectives. These rebuttals, written by people who clearly aren’t up to the task, appear like mayflies: they burst forth, have their day in the sun, and then are entirely forgotten.
The unread classics
Among the common traits these ground-breaking classics share, we would have to include the way in which they become known to modern scholars and students. They are not so much read as “absorbed” through the membrane of other scholars. That is, students read what other scholars think the original work said, or they come across a synopsis of the work, and this serves a stand-in for actually reading it and understanding it on its own merits. The original tract is reduced to footnote fodder with writers pretending to have read the work, when really all they’ve done is skimmed a summary, a passing reference, or an interpretation.
You’d have to look long and hard to find a better example of an unread classic than William Wrede’s The Messianic Secret (1901). Unavailable in English until 1971, Wrede’s book was at first largely ignored in the US and UK (see J.D.G Dunn’s “The Messianic Secret in Mark,” (warning: link leads to PDF) Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970) 92-117). Apparently, by the time the English-speaking world took notice of it, so much had been written on the subject that scholars began to lose sight of the original thesis, while others simply misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented Wrede’s very description of the problem. Continue reading “Reading Wrede Again for the First Time (1)”
This is tiresome, but I forgot to mention one more tiresome detail in Dr McGrath’s “review” (isn’t a review supposed to inform readers of what the book being discussed actually says??) —
McGrath compares Doherty’s use of the word “midrashic” with how a related word is apparently used by Barbara Thiering and John Shelby Spong. McGrath even links Thiering and Spong together as if they have a similar approach to New Testament studies.
McGrath has the ignorance, the gallstones, the ignorance (one is not allowed to use a word that relates to “truth-telling” or “lying”) to compare Doherty’s — and now Spong’s too! — use of the word “midrash” to that of Barbara Thiering’s use of another word, pesher.
It’s a pity Dr James McGrath was not sitting beside me when I attended a session where John Shelby Spong was the main speaker and at which he was asked about the works of Barbara Thiering. He would have learned that any similarity in thought between the two scholars could only come from the most creative cartoonists Hollywood has produced.
It’s also a pity that Dr James McGrath has not had the time or interest to familiarize himself with any of Spong’s scholarly background or publications. If he ever does get the chance to do so he will learn that Spong is Michael Goulder’s successor of sorts, and is advancing Goulder’s arguments, with refinements more or less. (Has Dr McGrath even ever heard of Michael Goulder? One only has limited free time when one’s teaching curriculum requires so many hours of watching Dr Who! and contemplating each program’s “intersects” with religion).
But back to this use of the word “midrashic” that McGrath takes such strong objection to.
I have said enough and do not want to repeat myself. I simply invite Dr McGrath (Is he sticking his fingers in his ears right now and shouting “La La La, I can’t hear you!”?) to review what Jewish scholars of midrashic literature themselves say about the Gospels containing or even being “midrash”, not to mention his very own New Testament scholarly peers! —
Dr McGrath’s “reviews” (sic) of Earl Doherty’s book are what you get when a reviewer has made up his mind beforehand that he is going to read nothing but nonsense — except for any tidbits that happen to be repeats of mainstream scholarly views anyway — written by an ignorant charlatan whom he (the reviewer) is convinced has never engaged with the scholarship, is poorly read and only ever uses scholarly works tendentiously and dishonestly.
Approaching a book with this conviction will make it impossible to read the book on its own terms. One will be expecting to find rubbish and this expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will lead the reviewer to jump scornfully on sentences here and half paragraphs there and scoff before he has even taken the time to grasp what anyone else without “attitude” would read.
I know. I have done the same myself.
When I was beginning to leave a religious cult I picked up a book on how cults psychologically manipulate their members. I was still sensitive enough to be offended by such a suggestion and I read the book with hostile intent and wrote all sorts of objections in the margin. Years later I picked up the book again, with my pride having mellowed, and shook my head in amazement at how my notes betrayed a mind that was completely shut to what the author was really saying. My notes were testimony to my closed mind, not to any inadequacies in the book at all.
I list here McGrath’s objections to Doherty’s work with quotations from Doherty’s book that belie anything McGrath thinks he sees in it.
A year ago I posted the Ascension of Isaiah and highlighted the passages that demonstrate the thrust of Earl Doherty’s argument that this text is an example of the sorts of beliefs we find in Paul’s letters about Christ not being crucified on earth. Interested readers of this post will find that earlier post of some benefit in understanding the argument that follows. It is a complex subject and it is good to have some clear overview of the basics before one takes on the opposing arguments.
Also central to Doherty’s argument is a work known as The Ascension of Isaiah . . . .
This brings us to the crux of Doherty’s views. Doherty’s entire argument for mythicism can be viewed as an attempt to regard some parts of the Ascension of Isaiah as both the key to understanding the New Testament, and the fountainhead of what eventually became Christianity.
Wow, now that makes the Ascension of Isaiah really critical. Surely sounds like if the Asc. Isa. goes so does Doherty’s entire argument.
In my previous post that began to address Dr McGrath’s “review” of a small section of Earl Doherty’s 10th chapter. I focussed on Dr McGrath’s opening assertion that the Ascension of Isaiah in its Christian version dates from the latter half of the second century and criticizing Doherty for failing to address this “conclusion” or justify his own disagreement with it:
The Christian version is dated by scholars to the second half of the second century at the earliest, and Doherty does not even address that conclusion or show awareness of it, much less present anything that might justify disagreeing with it.
It’s pretty hard to show any awareness of a date that is fabricated entirely in Dr McGrath’s imagination.
McGrath’s claim about the dating of the Christian version by scholars is misleading. I quoted a raft of experts and commentators on the Asc. Isa. in my previous post, mostly from sources Dr McGrath himself linked, demonstrating that they all place the various Christian parts of the Asc. Isa. much earlier and it is only the final compilation of these that was accomplished in the later second century. McGrath’s date for the assembling of the parts is irrelevant to a discussion that is about the thought-world of parts that most scholars are agreed dates between the late first and early second centuries.
I asked McGrath through a mediator (since McGrath says he won’t address me) for the source for his assertion that the Asc. Isa. should be dated to the late second century. Dr McGrath is not a fool and he knew he had overstated or mis-stated his case (perhaps as a result of my previous response to his “review”?) so he opted to answer another question: to cite an article in which scholars date the Christian portions of the Asc. Isa. to the second century (not late in that century). Dr McGrath has explained that his source was an article, from 1990, by Robert G. Hall. In that article Hall concludes that the Asc. Isa. dates from the end of the first century or beginning of the second, thus flatly contradicting Dr McGrath’s initial claim in his “review” of Doherty’s argument for a late second century date. This is surely a tacit admission that Doherty’s date for the Asc. Isa. is consistent after all with scholarly views:
We have also suggested that the Ascension of Isaiah belongs among writings which reflect prophetic conflict and which date from the end of the first century or the beginning of the second. (Hall, Robert G.. (1990). The Ascension of Isaiah: Community Situation, Date, and Place in Early Christianity. Journal of Biblical Literature. 109 (2), p.306. — my emphasis)
The news on Syria is drenched with unconfirmed and unsourced reports, print, video and audio. I learned long ago that the mainstream media is driven too much by economics to be a reliable source — if the government or the corporation or any other interest group gives you a free press release then don’t waste time checking it out, just broadcast it!
Over some years now I have come to respect Middle East journalist Robert Fisk. Some on the rabid right loathe him, but I have found his analysis to be the most spot on in the end whether it’s about Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Israel-Gaza/West Bank, or Syria. He knows his stuff.
People get upset over the strangest little things. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, I recall the fervor with which his administration tried its best to “undo the horrors” of the Carter years. For example, almost immediately they ripped the solar panels off the White House roof and set aside plans to move the US to the metric system. I suspect they didn’t really hate solar power or particularly love feet and inches; they just hated the people who advocated those policies.
When you see people throw tantrums over seemingly unimportant things, you start to look for the underlying issues that the indicators signify. Of course it’s no mystery why fundamentalist Christians have been howling over the switch from AD (Anno Domini) to CE (Common Era) and BC (Before Christ) to BCE (Before the Common Era). For them it betokens the erosion of Christian supremacy in our culture. It indicates their loss of dominance in national affairs. And besides, they hate change. That much is understandable.
However, what are we to make of a non-believing, free-thinking professor who jumps on the bandwagon? Dr. Richard Carrier is last person I would have to expected see rending his clothing and sitting in sackcloth and ashes over what is essentially a simple unit of measure. He doesn’t just dislike the change in nomenclature — he hates it. Carrier tells us that CE and BCE “should be stuffed in a barrel filled with concrete and tossed to the bottom of the sea.” Wow. That’s the sort of vitriol I reserve for really important evils, such as flavored coffee or misplaced apostrophes. What’s the hubbub, bub? Continue reading “Uncommon Tantrums over a Common Era”
(belatedly — about 50 mins after original posting — added quotation from ‘The Origin of the Samaritans’ concerning the date of Asc. Isa.)
Coming hard on the heels of Dr McGrath’s public display of professional incompetence over his failure to understand the elementary principles of the Documentary Hypothesis, this is a double embarrassment for the professor. He demonstrates total confusion about the date of the composition of the various parts of the Ascension of Isaiah and in the end resorts entirely to the one passage many commentators are agreed is a late Christian interpolation and that has no relevance at all as a rebuttal to Earl Doherty’s arguments about the earlier portions of the text. For good measure he concludes with a swipe at Doherty’s use of the word “midrash” (yes, again) despite the fact that his use is in complete accord with what Jewish scholars of midrash themselves, not to mention a raft of his own New Testament colleagues, say about the Gospels.
Dr McGrath misleadingly titles his post Review of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man chapter 10 part two. It is not a review of the second part of the chapter by any means, and Dr McGrath effectively admits this. He left off the review of the first part of this chapter after covering the first 12 pages. But now he skips across the next ten pages to focus on the last 7.
To paraphrase an expression Dr McGrath has himself used often enough himself: Just writing lots of tirades against a book chapter by chapter does not mean that one has addressed anything more than one or two points per chapter. I have in past posts demonstrated with a comparison of Dr McGrath’s “reviews” and Doherty’s own words that McGrath has chosen to entirely overlook the central arguments and key points of chapters, and even baldly claim that Doherty does not say or reference things that he most certainly does say and reference. The fact is, the complaints against Dr McGrath’s reviews have focussed on the intellectual dishonesty that runs through them all in that they regularly accuse Doherty of not saying or addressing things he clearly does say and address, and of creating completely misleading ideas of Doherty’s arguments by omitting entire arguments that belie McGrath’s false allegations.
Since those complaints are a smokescreen trying to distract from the fact that the book’s shortcomings are so bad that they undermine anything positive that could be said about the book, presumably there is no point in trying any longer to be as comprehensive as possible.
One has to ask for whose benefit Dr McGrath has been writing these reviews. He says here the complaints “of a few mythicists” have led him to change his approach. Was he really doing these reviews all along primarily for the benefit “of a few mythicists”? I doubt it. I suspect McGrath has finally tired of attempting to maintain the appearance of comprehensive chapter by chapter reviews — efforts that were regularly rewarded with prompt exposures of his incompetence (one dare not suggest dishonesty) with each review — and now is going to select bits here and there in the book he feels he can use as a springboard to attack mythicism.
In other words, if readers of his reviews were given a completely false impression of Doherty’s book till now, from now on they will not be given any overview of the chapters at all.
I don’t know how such an exercise can possibly be called “a review”.
What good points there have been in the book thus far have typically been things that one can find in other books which consistently use a scholarly approach. And so from this point onward readers of this blog can expect me to focus entirely on the book’s many shortcomings, and can look elsewhere for other information.
Dr McGrath appears here to be saying that there is absolutely nothing Doherty has written that is “good” that is not found in other authors. Everything original Doherty has written is “bad”.
I have always thought it a truism that when you start to find nothing good or nothing bad in another then that is a sure warning signal that you are letting prejudice dictate your outlook. One is reminded of book-burning rationales. Anything bad in the book deserves to be burnt; anything good is redundant so the book should be burnt anyway.
Dr McGrath appears to be confused here. There is no either-or of which I am aware. Scholars are agreed that the first 5 chapters are primarily an early Jewish text; subsequently Christian texts were written of the Vision and later still other Christians combined these and interpolated additional Christian passages into both halves.
That is, the first 5 chapters are virtually unanimously believed to be a first century Jewish text about the martyrdom of Isaiah. The remaining chapters are a compilation of later Christian additions. They speak mainly of the Vision of Isaiah. When these Christian and Jewish texts appear to have been combined into a single work a Christian redactor interpolated a sprinkling of verses throughout the Jewish section and added a large section, chapters 11:2-22, to the earlier Christian account of Isaiah’s vision. That is a very simplified but essentially correct overview. McGrath himself later says the textual history is very complex, but actually Doherty does address and explain the complexity very well — a pity Dr McGrath did not take the time to learn from him.
It is easy to overlook Dr McGrath’s apparent confusion at this stage of the post but later on we will see that it should be taken as a warning indicator that there is much more to come. Dr McGrath clearly has never seriously studied the Asc. Isa. before and there is much evidence he is struggling to make a coherent argument. (It took me quite some time and re-reading many commentaries before I could be sure I could grasp the many references to the various manuscripts in the different languages, of the Asc. Isa., but the basics are not difficult to follow.) In the end Dr McGrath will rely for his own “rebuttal” of Doherty entirely on the one passage all scholars declare to be a very late second century forgery that is completely irrelevant to Earl Doherty’s argument.