Ehrman’s and Doherty’s Arguments: Spot the Difference

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is an appendix to Ehrman’s Most Bizarre Criticism Of All Against Doherty.

In a recent post I pointed out that Ehrman fully agreed with Doherty’s portrayal of the ancient mystery cults as most likely having a quite different understanding of traditional myths from the way the philosophers interpreted them. (The only pity is that Ehrman did not read Doherty’s book in order to know that he and Doherty are on the same page.) Doherty points out, and Ehrman completely agrees, that the everyday person in the towns and villages was not at all interested in finding ways to interpret the myths allegorically in order to explain grander cosmic processes. That sort of thing was, as both Doherty and Ehrman explain in unison, the preserve of esoteric philosophers like Plutarch. Similarly, Ehrman heartily agrees with Doherty’s account that there many different views of the universe and a wide range of different philosophies — e.g. Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, Neo-Platonism — in the days of early Christianity.

Someone who read that post has since alerted me to further confluences of agreement between Ehrman and Doherty. Gosh, I wonder if Ehrman is a closet mythicist. You know, like the way gay-haters are sometimes thought to be suppressing their own homosexual urges. (I speak tongue in cheek. Of course Ehrman is not a mythicist. My point is to highlight the hypocritical (or worse) nature of Ehrman’s attempts to discredit Doherty.)

Readers of both Doherty’s books (1999 and 2009) and Ehrman’s publications (2000 and 2004) will be struck at how very similar they are at so many critical points. It is as if Ehrman and Doherty had attended the same classes and had come to think quite alike. Could that be one factor in Ehrman’s outrageous efforts to disinform readers about what Doherty really writes? Continue reading “Ehrman’s and Doherty’s Arguments: Spot the Difference”

Ehrman explains: Doherty could be right after all

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Diogenes the Cynic philosopher went around the sunlit streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man.

Bart Ehrman has expressed outrage at Earl Doherty’s suggestion that ancient philosophers had any influence at all upon the way ancient myths came to be understood in the wider culture of the day. Doherty discusses the way philosophers came to reinterpret certain types of traditional myths so as to lift them out of the primordial past and to place them into a spiritual dimension, even an upper world, and to allegorize them to represent larger cosmic forces and generic human impulses. At the same time he makes it clear that he thinks myths such as those of Heracles or of Olympian gods interacting with humans on earth were not affected, but that other myths such as those of Isis and Osiris were evidently lifted into that “spiritual dimension”. How were these myths interpreted in the mystery cults? Do we have a right to suggest that elitist philosophical thinking had any influence at all upon the wider culture of the day? Doherty’s writes:

And if that transplanting [of myths from a primordial past to a supernatural dimension] is the trend to be seen in the surviving [philosophical] writings on the subject, it is very likely that a similar process took place to some degree in the broader world of the devotee and officiant of the mysteries; it cannot be dismissed simply as an isolated elitist phenomenon. In fact, that very cosmological shift of setting can be seen in many of the Jewish intertestamental writings . . . . [Other hints and deductions which can be derived from archeological remains, such as the Mithraic monuments, can also be informative.]. . . . . 

[N]or would everyone, from philosopher to devotee-in-the-street, shift to understanding and talking about their myths in such a revised setting. The changeover in the mind of the average person may well have been imperfect, just as modern science has effected a rethinking of past literal and naïve views toward elements of the bible in the direction of the spiritual and symbolic, but in an incomplete and varied fashion across our religious culture as a whole. [p. 100, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man]

Ehrman retaliates vociferously:

Why should we assume that the mystery cults were influenced by just one of these philosophies? Or for that matter by any of them? . . . .

I hardly need to emphasize again that the early followers of Jesus [Christians] were not elite philosophers. They were by and large common people. Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (pp. 254 – 255, Did Jesus Exist?)

I have substituted Ehrman’s ambiguous yet question-begging “followers of Jesus” for “Christians” in the above quote so it can be reasonably dealt with in a logical manner. Here Ehrman can scarcely be any more dogmatic. There can be no doubt that here he is leading his readers into thinking that ancient philosophy had no impact on Paul nor even on any of the ordinary folk who became the earliest Christian converts. Paul’s world view was Jewish, so he is stressing. His theology was informed by the Jewish tradition and his meditations on the Jewish scriptures alone. Ehrman is laying out his point in stark contrast to anything else he leads the readers to think Doherty is arguing: Paul and the early Christians were dependent upon the Jewish religion and scriptures and NOT pagan philosophies or mystery cults.

But wait!

Ehrman answers his own rhetorical question

Before Ehrman wrote this book attacking mythicism he wrote other stuff that sounds for all the world as if he was agreeing with the very possibility Doherty was suggesting — that the philosophical ideas of the elite probably did indeed trickle down in whatever bastardized form to the wider community! Continue reading “Ehrman explains: Doherty could be right after all”