Clarice and I decided to ask Dead Sea Scroll scholar Robert Eisenman a few questions for the forum, and he generously responded. This is a long post, but I hope some who are familiar with his work over the years find it interesting. Eisenman isn’t quite a “mythicist,” but his work definitely put me on the road to questioning the existence of a historical Jesus, though ‘Jesus’ really hasn’t been his focus at all. Eisenman is now Emeritus Professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology and Islamic Law at California State University, Long Beach.
I particularly liked Eisenman’s closing remarks:
Thank you for the opportunity of contributing to and participating in your web discussions. Keep up the good work, as they say, and don’t allow yourselves to be defeated or discouraged by any hostile ‘academicians’ or reputed ‘scholars’. These, in the end will always be the hardest either to influence or bring over to the kind of thinking you represent since they have the most to lose by either acknowledging or entertaining it, largely because they would be seen as somewhat ridiculous by their peers if they were to deny the whole thrust of their previous academic work and training.
We must leave them like this, but should not expect any different from them or be discouraged in any way by them. You are the final judge of these things and you have sufficient information and data at your fingertips to make your own final, intelligent, and incisive judgments which will hopefully be full of insight.
(My own highlighting in both quotations.)
It appears that Professor Eisenman will be available in the coming weeks to respond to any feedback and questions any of us may like to raise with him.
This looks like a very rare opportunity not to be let go. (And you don’t have to pay to enter a private forum, either.)
Scientists and science organizations are being disingenuous when they say science can say nothing about the supernatural. They know better. Their policy of appeasing religion for presumably political reasons only empowers those who are muddling education and polluting public policy with anti-scientific magical thinking.
I find it surprising that most scientists, believers and nonbelievers alike, refuse to apply their critical thinking skills to matters of religion. . . . . Scientists prefer to follow Stephen Jay Gould’s dictum that science and religion occupy two “non-overlapping magisteria.”
That, of course, means individuals are required to leave moral and ethical questions to “scholars who interpret ancient texts.” Provocative Stenger opines that such a situation sounds to him like “Sharia law”. Moral behaviour certainly is observable and a matter of scientific understanding. (It was my own realization that all social animals have “moral codes”, including punishments meted out to those who break them, that helped me on my own journey towards atheism.)
Stenger addresses two (of several) types of scientific experiments that have been conducted to test what should be the observable effects of the supernatural on the natural world: the phenomena of answered — or unanswered — prayer and near-death experiences.
René’s response has been reformatted and posted here with permission:
Obviously, the question of Nazareth archaeology is my special bailiwick and, to my knowledge, no one has specifically countered Ehrman regarding his pages 191-97. I can say here that Ehrman is evasive, tendentious and, of course, entirely wrong.
He is evasive by casually ignoring vital elements of my case (e.g., he doesn’t even mention oil lamps, all of which date to the common era at Nazareth).
He is tendentious
by stressing extra-evidentiary elements (such as my lack of credentials–p. 194),
by focussing on irrelevancies (kokh tombs were expensive and not used by “poor people”),
and by grossly mischaracterizing actual evidence.
The boondoggle regarding Yardena Alexandre’s 165 coins (p. 195) is a case in point and is getting entirely out of hand.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) report Alexandre sent me in May, 2006 regarding her Mary’s Well excavation makes no mention of coins other than “many 14th-15th century small denomination coins.” It is inconceivable to me that coins dating “to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus” (DJE 195) would have been omitted from Alexandre’s report to the IAA. Furthermore, such a coin profile conflicts with the remaining evidence from Nazareth.
Nevertheless, such coins have subsequently been claimed, beginning with the Nazareth Village Farm report (BAIAS 2007, p.40) authored by Stephen Pfann and others. There, Pfann writes that a report on these early coins from Alexandre is “forthcoming” but, to my knowledge, no such report has appeared (now five years on). In his “Reply to Salm” in BAIAS 2008:106, Pfann and Rapuano write that Alexandre has provided a written statement to them attesting to such early coins in her 1997-98 excavation. Evidently, Pfann and the tradition are running with this. Ehrman now also mentions this: “Alexandre has verbally confirmed that in fact it is the case: there were coins in the collection that date to the time prior to the Jewish uprising” (196).
In his paper, “Mark’s Missing Ending: Clues from the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Peter,” Dr. James F. McGrath asks some interesting questions about the last chapter of Mark and what “story” the author may have understood to lie beyond it. This sort of question reminds me of the difference between the larger story arc of a character’s life in a play or film and the limited, internal story within the work itself. We have the backstory of the characters leading up to the opening scene, and we often also wonder what will happen after the curtain falls.
Mark’s Gospel, like many stage plays, covers a focused narrative that depends on our familiarity with a rich backstory (the entire OT?). And similar to many plays based on well-known myths or historical events, we know (or we think we know) what will occur afterward. So the question at hand is, “What did Mark think happened next?” Surely such a question is legitimate, since the story of the early Christian church presumably begins somewhere in the murky shadows beyond the grave in Jerusalem. How did the early church emerge from two silent, terrified women?
McGrath’s paper addresses four major questions.
Why do we perceive the short ending of Mark to be problematic?
Why might Mark’s original audience not have thought it was problematic?
Can we find clues to the ending of Mark’s Gospel (beyond the written ending, that is) in the Gospels of Peter and John?
Does the ambiguity of the empty tomb story in Mark point to a greater reliance on religious experiences in Galilee that gave rise to the belief in the resurrection?
He must have died while carving it . . .
Just to be clear here, McGrath is not talking about a written ending that somehow got lost or was mysteriously suppressed. Nor does he posit that Mark died in the middle of chapter 16 — “. . . for they were very afraid — Aaaaagh!” Most modern scholars now believe Mark’s Gospel ended at 16:8 (often referred to as the Short Ending or “SE”). McGrath is asking what the author of Mark and his community believed happened after the disciples had scattered. That is, what happened once the curtain fell on the final scene with the women too afraid to tell anyone what had happened? Continue reading “McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 1″