Appendix to my “concluding response” — that ca.4 letter word MIDRASH

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by Neil Godfrey

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! —

Midrash and the Gospels 1: Some definitions and explanations

Midrash and the Gospels 2: debates in the scholarly sphere

Midrash and Gospels 3: What some Jewish scholars say (and continuing ‘Midrash Tales of the Messiah’)

Messiahs, Midrash and Mythemes — more comparisons with the Gospels

McGrath actually wrote the following bollocks:

Towards the end of the chapter, Doherty once again uses the term “midrash” incorrectly, and while he and some of his defenders have tried to distract attention from this, it is crucially important. Doherty uses midrash not as the Jewish tradition does but as John Shelby Spong does, which seems in turn to be based on the manner that Barbara Thiering used the more specific term pesher. They all claim that people not only interpreted already-existing sacred texts in a manner that resembles their allegorical decoding, but composed texts of their own that were supposed to be interpreted in the same way. Doherty makes claims similar to the bogus ones made by Thiering, albeit ironically to make the opposite point to the one she does. But the effect is the same in one important respect: both claim that early Christians wrote things about Jesus or the early church that were not supposed to be taken literally, but later mistakenly were. And so far from being a mere problem of misused terminology, Doherty’s misuse of the term midrash is a sign of a crucial and fundamental flaw in his case. He is treating the Gospels as examples of a genre that did not exist, and turning them into allegories for the same reason that Christian preachers have so often done so: to make them say something that they do not.

I have noticed that if I ever type the word “Mandeans” into a post, then no matter what I am saying about that word or where the quote comes from, McGrath will immediately jump on his high horse and do a rebuttal that bears no relation to anything I actually posted. Reason? Mandeans are his scholarly specialty so no-one is allowed to say anything intelligent or knowledgeable about them. Some academics really are like that.

Doherty in fact uses the word “midrashic” in exactly the same way Jewish scholars specializing in midrashic literature use the word, even of the Gospels themselves, and even in the same way many of his biblical-scholarly peers do. I have rebutted McGraths’ tiresome repetition of this objection to Doherty so many times — and Doherty also has challenged McGrath to come up with evidence to support his critique — so I will simply leave readers with the links to posts above. McGrath himself will, we know, continue to plug his ears with his fingers and pounce around like Tweedledum singing, Tra la la, I can’t hear you!

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Neil Godfrey

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One thought on “Appendix to my “concluding response” — that ca.4 letter word MIDRASH”

  1. Midrash just means interpretation. But these evangelical apologists have turned it into some kind of magical category. If anything clearly false is found in the gospels (like claiming that Isa 7, Micah 5, or Jer 31 are about Jesus rather than the Babylonian and Assyrian captivities, Hezekiah, and Zorobabel) then the New Testament’s misuse of these passages is called “midrash” and somehow that makes the lie true or the mistake right. Sorry, but that’s just silly.

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