The Democratization of Knowledge and the Reaction of Reactionary Scholars

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by Tim Widowfield

Today’s scripture reading comes from Ring Lardner’s short story, “The Young Immigrunts.”

Chapter 10


The lease said about my and my fathers trip from the Bureau of Manhattan to our new home the soonest mended. In some way ether I or he got balled up on the grand concorpse and next thing you know we was thretning to swoop down on Pittsfield.

Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly.

Shut up he explained.

Balled Up on the Grand Concorpse

photograph of stained glass window in St. Igna...
photograph of stained glass window in St. Ignatius Church, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts by John Workman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody else in the world has been blogging about Dr. Bart Ehrman’s latest book on the existence of Jesus, and I didn’t want to feel left out. But the truth is there’s not much left to say. Yes, it’s a disappointment. And yes, we expected more and better from a respected, popular scholar. On the other hand, it wasn’t that big a surprise, was it?

We might, however, be forgiven if we found the tone of the debate a tad over the top. We have learned, as the hapless four-year-old protagonist in Lardner’s story discovered, that there is no way to ask Daddy if he’s lost that won’t bring a harsh response.

It does seem odd, however, to see scholars with advanced degrees — public intellectuals who teach real students at real universities — stooping to personal attacks. More disturbing than the abuse is the apparent lack of unawareness exhibited by the perpetrators, as if to say, “This is perfectly normal behavior.”

Swooping down on Pittsfield

Mythicist authors certainly got an earful last week from the boys and girls in the Ivory Tower club house. Not only were their credentials or lack thereof shown to all the world and mocked, but they were also treated most graciously to free psychological screenings. They are all, it turns out, driven by their hostility toward Christianity, which is the only reason they cling to the preposterous idea that Jesus never existed. After all, what excuse do they have, given the unassailable arguments laid out by Ehrman? If they don’t agree with Bart, they must hate Jesus.

It’s a curious thing to see self-professed intellectuals call people out by name, imagining that they can read their minds, and that they somehow know why somebody holds a particular position. Check out what Joel Watts had to say on March 22, while slapping his colleague, James McGrath on the back.

Godfrey will only allow what information benefits him. Mythicists are by far and away the must [sic] subjective, because they like Young Earth Creationists, aim to prove by disproving, and they disprove by ignoring. They cannot answer, only circumvent and deflect.

That’s right, Joel. Why deal with the message if you can slander the messenger instead, right? Just remember, dear reader, these “honorable men” teach real students at real institutes of higher learning.

Chapter 10 (cont’d)

At lenth we doubled our tracks and done much better as we finley hit New Rochelle and puled up along side a policeman with falling archs.

What road do I take for Grenitch Conn quired my father with poping eyes.

Take the Boston post replid the policeman.

I have all ready subscribed to one out of town paper said my father and steped on the gas so we will leave the flat foot gaping after us like a prune fed calf and end this chapter.

Like a prune fed calf

We might also be forgiven if we admit to being baffled at simultaneously being told that scholarly consensus isn’t proof while being told continually that all “reputable” NT scholars believe in the historical Jesus. Similarly, we may be left scratching our heads when we’re told that “cranks” like Earl Doherty aren’t fully equipped to be true NT scholars. They can’t understand what needs to be understood, because they don’t know Aramaic, Latin, Syriac, Hebrew, and Coptic. Ehrman pats G. A. Wells on the head, saying he has at least done “the hard legwork necessary to make his case: although an outsider to New Testament studies, he speaks the lingo of the field and read deeply in its scholarship.”

Can you see the slippery slope Ehrman has embarked upon? He seems to imply that in order to have an opinion worth listening to, we would need advanced degrees in NT studies, and be conversant in all the source languages. In fact if you and I only had the depth of knowledge Dr. Ehrman has, we’d know that Jesus existed. But since we don’t, we should hold our peace.

In other words, not only do we not know enough to have a valid opinion, but we will never know enough to have a valid opinion.

With poping eyes

Apparently, the only degree you don’t need in order to pronounce a verdict on the historicity of Jesus is history. I know of many NT scholars with doctorates in divinity and New Testament studies, but (and please correct me if I’m wrong) I know of none with any serious training in historiography. Or is the study of history and the historical method different from all the other “required” studies for an NT scholar? Is this something you can “pick up on the side” while learning the “truly important stuff” like exegesis and medieval theology?

What’s really going on here? We are witnessing a serious backlash from the ivory tower. The scholarly class has no problem with mass communication when it’s used properly — namely, for them to transmit knowledge to the less educated. But they take serious issue with the true democratization of knowledge. It’s a clear and present danger to the status quo. Incidentally, this is the real reason why the power elites hate Noam Chomsky. He has the gall to tell people that if they have access to all the data concerning governmental policy, they’re smart enough to come to the right decisions — usually better decisions than the bloody ghouls who currently run the show.

Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly

I hear rumors that behind the scenes Christ mythicists are happy that Ehrman has released his half-baked book to the public. It’s the old Gandhi quote again — “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you.” Mythicists take comfort in the fact that they’ve finally entered stage two. Or is it stage three?  — “And then they attack you and want to burn you.”

In any case the silence has been broken.

“Shut up,” Bart explained.

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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19 thoughts on “The Democratization of Knowledge and the Reaction of Reactionary Scholars”

  1. Well the daddy in Ring’s story knew he was lost, [even asked the flatfoot the way] hence the short responses to the child.
    Do the HJers know they are lost?

    1. How could they possibly admit to such a thing? They have more at stake than daddy in the story so must bury the admission even deeper. I guess we can only draw conclusions from the gratuitous extremity and irrationality of their responses.

      And this is the beautiful thing about democratization. We can see a range of quite a-religious sites, even ones owned by public intellectuals, seeing right through the logical fallacies and intemperance of Bart E. in his latest.

  2. Richard Carrier has a couple of interesting comments about the fears of biblical scholars re mythicism.

    In his first blog response to B.E.’s Huffpo piece he says this:

    “I personally know a few professors who themselves also feel this way: they do not touch this topic [mythicism] with a ten foot pole, precisely because they fear the kind of thing Ehrman is doing and threatening. They do not want to lose their jobs or career prospects and opportunities. They do not want to be ridiculed or marginalized.”

    Then in response to a feedback comment [#92] he says this:

    “Keep your eye on the scholars who weigh in on this, or who don’t. How many will admit he [Ehrman] made some mistakes? How many stay a mile away from the whole debate altogether? Then you’ll know.”

    Its sad.

  3. “I know of many NT scholars with doctorates in divinity and New Testament studies”

    I think this is due to the nature of the beast. Religious studies, at least secular religious studies, isn’t a very lucrative career. When you are in the PhD track in religious studies, most of your funding comes from this very small pool of funds from this shrinking career field. So you need some other way of earning money. In academia, M.divinity degrees are considered professional degress. This means that someone with a divinity degree can get a job (or side job) teaching at seminaries, preaching, or doing weddings, etc. So a lot of the times if you are doing a PhD in religious studies you might also have done a divinity degree as well.

  4. The problem with Carrier, as with mythieists in general, as well as with too many NT scholars, Ehrman included (see Merrill Miller’s Beginning From Jerusalem), is the fundamental fact that they base their conclusions, “evidence” on the writings of the NT which is written in the context of the myth of the Christ of faith, not of fthe man Jesus; while taking no account of the guild’s present historical methods and knowledge. This constitutes a radical reconstruction of post death Jesus traditions. See Ed Jones Dialogue.

    1. I do find Ehrman’s The Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures treatment of Bauer to be quite helpful. Even if Ehrman does not specifically identify the source of an “original teaching”: “ – – ‘orthodoxy’ in the sense of a unified group advancing an apostolic doctrine accepted by the majority of Christians everywhere, did not exist in the second and third centuries . Nor was “heresy” secondarily derived from an original teaching – -. Beliefs that were, at later times, embraced as orthodoxy and condemned as heresy, were in fact competing interpretations of Christianity, one of which eventually (but not initially) acquired domination because of singular historical and social forces. Only when one social group had exerted itself sufficiently over the rest of Christendom did a “majority” represent the view of the Christian church at large”. Bauer does not assume that orthodoxy refers to “right beliefs” and heresy to ”willful misbeliefs”, he implies no value judgment.

      1. Nice and subtle symbolism. I wonder how many of us got it.

        I noticed the colors and design, but didn’t pay enough attention to the ivory tower and its meaning.

        If we look it up in Wikipedia, it seems to be an emblem of the kind of discussions we’re having here and on other “sophisticated” blogs. Here it is:

        “The term Ivory Tower originates in the Biblical Song of Solomon (7,4), and was later used as an epithet for Mary.
        From the 19th century it has been used to designate a world or atmosphere where intellectuals engage in pursuits that are disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life. As such, it usually carries pejorative connotations of a wilful disconnect from the everyday world; esoteric, over-specialized, or even useless research; and academic elitism, if not outright condescension. In American English usage it is a shorthand for academia or the university, particularly departments of the humanities.”

      2. Even the rational deficient believer got it: “the gilld’s present historical methods and knowledge” personified by the term Ivory Tower, implying that the term applies generaly to the guild of NT studies, thus an illegitimate discipline.
        What a fun source of grist for the mythicists, those higher rationals; mill!. Bye “friend”.

  5. Ehrman’s book has confirmed (re-confirmed) my understanding of the flimsy outcropping upon which biblical scholarship rest. I honestly get lightheaded imagining this lofty precipice, and their tissue thin handhold with its imaginary foundation, once high up in the clouds, but now descending faster than the platonic hopes of the second century Diaspora.

    After the Jesus Project disbanded without finding evidence of their superhero, it’s understandable to think some of these scholars were hoping Ehrman’s book would be the wind beneath their wings, or at the very least a thread fine sky hook to arrest their fall from grace, but it appears to be neither. This fallacy ridden rant of preposterous preconceptions has brought the ephemeral elasticity of biblical criteriology into stark contrast to what is considered critical thinking and the historical method.

    Ehrman’s book has spotlighted a naked Emperor, biblical scholarship, standing precariously upon the laypersons ignorance of many ancient writers use of the inspirational value of fictionalized history, historicized fiction, and mythology to further the theological motivation behind a political agenda.

    The inability of such a popular author to do other than assume historicity back at the first century, in exactly the same direction it was originally created, has removed the last of any allusions to any footing for a bunch of free-falling biblical fabricators.

    It’s a rare individual who can fall so far without getting a little upset. It’s not so hard to understand the screaming.


  6. “…but they were also treated most graciously to free psychological screenings.”
    Ehrman committed the cardinal sin of psychologizing, turning it into an ad hominem. To paraphrase Rothbard, you should first dismantle someone’s doctrine and only then turn to attacking their personal character.

    1. I have found that if you can dismantle people’s arguments, brick by brick, proving their foundational assumptions were wrong and their logic was faulty, it pretty much does the job.

      As they say, “Show, don’t tell.”

      1. I think we will hear (indeed we are already hearing it) what a wonderful job Ehrman has done of dismantling mythicist arguments brick by brick. But ask those people how they know he has accomplished this so successfully, that is, ask if they have read the arguments he claims to be dismantling . . . .

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