I am posting here Earl Doherty’s comment — originally made on FRDB — about my recent posts on Bart Ehrman’s treatment of his book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man.
I hope that all of you are following the postings on Vridar by Neil Godfrey relating to Bart Ehrman’s presentation of statements and arguments in my book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. . . . What Neil has focused on in this posting (“Bart Ehrman’s false or careless assertions and quotations concerning Earl Doherty“), the first of several he plans on the same problem in Did Jesus Exist [I now notice he has just posted a second instalment], is Ehrman’s handling of my discussion of the ancients’ views of the universe and how one in particular influenced early Christian cosmology and their placement of their Christ Jesus’ sacrifice in the heavenly world. Here, as quoted on Vridar, is what Ehrman says:
Ehrman continues to repeat and underscore this aspersion — that Doherty is so simplistic as to speak of a single view of the world among ancients:
To begin with, how can he claim to have uncovered “the” view of the world held by “the” ancients, a view that involved an upper world where the true reality resides and this lower world, which is a mere reflection of it? How, in fact, can we talk about “the” view of the world in antiquity? Ancient views of the world were extremely complex and varied…
Neil points out that this is a direct misrepresentation of what I say in my book. Ehrman is discussing my page 97, which actually says (the square-bracket insertions are mine just made):
To understand that setting, we need to look at the ancients’ views [VIEWS, plural] of the universe and the various [i.e., MULTIPLE] concepts of myth among both Jews and pagans, including the features of the Hellenistic salvation cults known as “mysteries.”
But Ehrman has not simply ‘misread’ one word, the surrounding context, and in many other places in my book, contains further material like this:
From the documentary record both Jewish and pagan (and there is more to survey), it is clear that much variation existed in the concept of the layered heavens and what went on in them, just as there were many variations in the nature of the savior and how he conferred salvation.
Neil and some commenters on his posting point out that Ehrman’s language (see above) also implies that this particular “view” of the universe (the Platonic one) I present is somehow my own laughable invention, whereas any undergraduate student of ancient thinking knows full well that this was a widespread (and even pre-Plato) type of cosmology about the nature of the universe. Unfortunately, much of Ehrman’s readership will not even be undergrads.
In the same posting Neil quotes this blatant non-sequitur on Ehrman’s part:
This view of things was especially true, Doherty avers, in the mystery cults, which Doherty claims provided “the predominant form of popular religion in this period.” (This latter claim, by the way, is simply not true. Most religious pagans were not devotees of mystery cults.)
Something that is a “predominant form” is not necessarily indulged in by the majority. Ehrman’s criticism here is based on this fallacy. I have not said that a majority of pagans were initiates into the cults. Besides, the presence of the word “popular” gives a different cast to things. If I say that the predominant form of popular music over the last half-century has been “rock and roll” that does not say that a majority of the population of all ages and ethnic groups around the world have been enthusiastic about rock and roll. Ehrman exhibits serious logical deficiencies here.
On the “view”/”views” matter, Neil suggests that Ehrman may have been “more careless than dishonest,” while one commenter puts it “we must first assume carelessness and not malice”. (Dishonorable or incompetent, take your pick.) But I think this is bending over backwards unjustifiably. It is admittedly hard to believe that Ehrman could have deliberately misrepresented my words, consciously falsifying my arguments in order to put me in the worst possible light. But what is the alternative “carelessness” due to? What else but a blatant prejudice against all things mythicist, a deliberate closing of the mind to anything that could possibly confer a positive light on the mythicist argument (shades of Dr. McGrath), a conscious attitude toward mythicism as a satanic expression of anti-religion held by people whose sole agenda is the destruction of Christianity? In other words, “malice” against myself and mythicism, and what I and other mythicists are perceived to constitute. (I don’t yet know if the language of his Huffington Post article is fully reproduced in the book, but that wouldn’t matter; those sentiments were offered in a promotion of the book and clearly illustrate the author’s mindset.) That malice has led Ehrman (and others both today and in the past) into a culture of misrepresentation and closed-minded condemnation, a litany of fallacious argument, a practice of misleading—even deceptive—presentation of both mythicism and the case for historicism, especially to lay readers who are at the mercy of their own trust in the reliability of ‘professional’ scholars with their proper credentials.
If we cannot trust a scholar to address and deal with the arguments of opposing viewpoints honestly and reliably, how can we trust them to be presenting and dealing honestly and reliably with the arguments in support of their own theories? And in fact, Ehrman has already been called out extensively on many of the book’s statements in defence of historicism, some of them blatantly insupportable.
Several months ago, when we were discussing the anticipation of Ehrman’s book on this forum, I said to Don that I would hardly be adopting toward Ehrman the same tone and style I often adopted toward some of those here who treat mythicism as a doormat. I would show, I said, respect toward a respected scholar who might be expected to handle the subject matter and its proponents with some degree of honesty and thoughtfulness. How naïve that was!
Robert Price has reacted to Ehrman’s book by calling it a “rag” and other derogatory labels. I won’t use that kind of language. Actually, it’s far worse. Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist is a massive failure of integrity, both professional and personal. This was a long-awaited book. First, from the time of its announcement over a year ago, for it was to constitute the work of a respected mainstream scholar who would devote an entire book to addressing mythicism and an attempt to effectively rebut it. But also long-awaited for several decades, for no one over that time had offered a full-length book to justify the widespread claim that historicism was a no-brainer and that mythicism had long been annihilated. To judge by quotes and comments (even by some not necessarily mythicism supporters), this book is a huge disappointment. One might even say a betrayal.
P.S. If my own reading of the book disproves or compromises this extremely negative evaluation, I will be the first to revise my estimation of it. I said in my first posting in this thread that I would be reacting to what others (on both sides) say about it, rather than to a reading of the book itself. Right now I am forced to mask my vision in the new cataract-free eye, since it contributes only a disturbing blur at monitor-screen distance, and I am having to rest frequently. But I found it impossible to remain silent on the sidelines until I am able to get a corrective reading lens and tackle the book itself. If anyone wishes to dispute my comments or evaluation of Ehrman on the basis of others’ quotes and criticisms, please feel free.
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