2012-05-16

Robert Eisenman: Interview and Opportunity to Engage In Discussion

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by Neil Godfrey

Robert Eisenman
Robert Eisenman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lengthy interview with Emeritus Professor Robert Eisenman has been posted on the JesusMysteries Discussion Forum. Anyone not familiar with the name can bring themselves up to speed on Robert Eisenman’s Wikipedia page.

Dennis Walker writes by way of introduction:

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.)


Science CAN say something about the supernatural

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by Neil Godfrey

Physicist Victor Stenger argues in HuffPo that

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.

His article is Science and Religion. I was alerted to it through Jerry Coyne’s post on Why Evolution Is True.

Stenger opens with

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.

Check the article for the details.


Nazareth: René Salm’s preliminary response to Bart Ehrman

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by Neil Godfrey

Nazareth
Nazareth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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).

So, the plot thickens. We have “evidence” that is not published but is being passed from one scholar to another and must be taken on faith. Of course, had I admitted unverifiable evidence ten years ago, my Nazareth book would never have been written. Continue reading “Nazareth: René Salm’s preliminary response to Bart Ehrman”


McGrath’s “Missing Ending”: What Was Mark’s Story? — Part 1

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by Tim Widowfield

The Two Marys at the Tomb
“The Two [or Three] Marys at the Tomb” by Bartolomeo Schedoni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stopping short

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.

  1. Why do we perceive the short ending of Mark to be problematic?
  2. Why might Mark’s original audience not have thought it was problematic?
  3. Can we find clues to the ending of Mark’s Gospel (beyond the written ending, that is) in the Gospels of Peter and John?
  4. 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″


2012-05-14

Ehrman Confesses: Scholars Never Have Tried to Prove Jesus Existed

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by Neil Godfrey

Thomas L. Thompson, Professor of Theology, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and editor of biblical studies journals, wrote in 2005 that historical Jesus scholars have always just assumed that Jesus existed:

Twentieth-century scholarship, with its faith in history, assumed a historical Jesus as its starting point. It shared Schweitzer’s personal dilemma: a choice between a Jesus who fits modern visions of Christianity and Mark’s failed prophet. But they always assumed there was a historical Jesus to describe. (p. 7, The Messiah Myth (2005) by Thomas L. Thompson)

Now Professor Bart Ehrman has said the same thing. He even says he believes he is the first scholar ever to set out a sustained argument to prove Jesus existed!

I realized when doing my research for the book that since New Testament scholars have never taken mythicists seriously, they have never seen a need to argue against their views, which means that even though experts in the study of the historical Jesus (and Christian origins, and classics, and ancient history, etc etc.) have known in the back of their minds all sorts of powerful reasons for simply assuming that Jesus existed, no one had ever tried to prove it. Odd as it may seem, no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived. To my knowledge, I was the first to try it, and it was a very interesting intellectual exercise. How do you prove that someone from 2000 years ago actually lived? I have to say, it was terrifically enlightening, engaging, and fun to think through all the issues and come up with all the arguments. I think really almost any New Testament scholar could have done it. But it ended up being lucky me. (Did Jesus Exist as Part One, accessed 14th May, 2012, my bolding and italics)

Can you imagine a biologist or paleontologist posting on a blog “no-one has ever tried to prove evolution”? Or a physicist saying “no-one has ever tried to prove the laws of physics”?

And note, further, the way Ehrman implies he went about this novel exercise of actually, for the first time in his life, trying to set out “a sustained argument” that Jesus existed. No references are made to historical methodologies. He simply sat down and thought it all up off the top of his erudite head. That he had never thought this through before, his neglect of historical methodology, even elementary logic, shows through when he writes some excruciatingly embarrassing pages in chapter two of his book Did Jesus Exist? Continue reading “Ehrman Confesses: Scholars Never Have Tried to Prove Jesus Existed”


11. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Three Voices . . . Papias

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by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 11

Three Voices on the Historical Jesus – No. 1: Papias

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

Papias
  • Papias’ Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord as revealed by Eusebius
  • Papias’ uncertain chain of oral transmission
  • Had Papias read any Gospels?
  • Papias’ “Mark” and “Matthew”: not the canonical Gospels, and not read by Papias
  • Papias quotes nothing from any version of our Gospels
  • The bizarre things Papias does give us as sayings of the Lord
  • By c.125, no written Gospels have reached the bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor

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* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 98-101)

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PAPIAS

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Ehrman now turns to three Christian writers of the late first and early second centuries who “convey information about the historical Jesus and certainly attest to his existence” in alleged ways which are “independent” of the Gospels. The first is Papias, a Christian bishop in Asia Minor writing around 120-130 CE, for whom we rely on Eusebius two centuries later, since Papias’ one known work is lost.

Despite Eusebius’ judgment that Papias was “a man of very small intelligence,” what is quoted from his Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord is supposed to represent good evidence of an historical Jesus. Ehrman quotes from Eusebius’ quote of Papias introductory words (History of the Church, III, 39.3-4), in which we learn:

that Papias will give an orderly account “of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders. . . . Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said . . .

Juggling Elders, Companions and Disciples

Of key interest here is the question of what Papias meant by these “elders”. Scholars will admit to an ambiguity, that “elders” may not refer to the disciple followers of Jesus subsequently named (as some older scholars have preferred to read it), but only to earlier Christians who themselves had known those disciples of Jesus. (That is, “inquire after their words” refers back to the preceding “elders,” but not to the men he goes on to name, which are two different groups and layers of tradition.) This would give us a chain of:

disciples → elders → companions of elders → Papias

And indeed, such a chain would make better sense given the amount of time between the disciples’ activity supposedly following Jesus’ death and Papias himself.

that Papias enquired of anything said by “Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew” or “any of the other disciples of the Lord.” But then he goes on to refer to things said by “Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord.”

This is exquisitely confusing. Continue reading “11. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Three Voices . . . Papias”


2012-05-13

1950s Scholarship on the Historicity of Jesus – Vardis Fisher’s summary

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by Neil Godfrey

American novelist Vardis Fisher (it’s not coincidental that the name of this blog is a partial acronym of this name, and an “autobiographical” character in one of his novels) included at the back of his novel Jesus Came Again: A Parable, a discussion of the scholarly views of his day on the historicity of Jesus.

He writes, in 1956 (with my formatting):

Was Jesus of Nazareth a historic person? We do not know, and unless documents turn up of which we have no knowledge we cannot hope ever to know.

Montefoire . . . says petulantly: “If eccentric scholars like to argue that Jesus never existed, let them do so.”

And Klausner, another Jew, says it is “unreasonable to question” it.

But says Schmiedel: “the view that Jesus never really lived has gained in ever-growing number of supporters. It is no use to ignore it, or to frame resolutions against it.”

Weigell: “Many of the most erudite critics are convinced that no such person ever lived.”

Among those so convinced [that no such person ever lived], some of them internationally known scholars, are Continue reading “1950s Scholarship on the Historicity of Jesus – Vardis Fisher’s summary”


2012-05-12

Ehrman: “It is simplest to assume”? How the Gospel of John IS Dependent Upon Gospel of Mark

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by Neil Godfrey

Bart Ehrman claims that the Gospel of John is testimony to the existence of traditions or sources about the life of Jesus that were independent of anything that was known to the other Gospels. Therefore, so it is implied, the Gospel of John is a witness to Jesus that stands independently of the other Gospels.

When they do tell the same stories (for example, the cleansing of the Temple, the betrayal of Judas, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion and resurrection narratives) they do so in different language (without verbatim overlaps) and with radically different conceptions. It is simplest to assume that John had his own sources for his accounts. (Did Jesus Exist? p. 259)

Bart Ehrman is a scholar so he does not make this claim lightly. He footnotes it to a source, a scholarly source no less:

Robert Kysar, John the Maverick Gospel, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) (this links to an online preview)

And that’s it. A book is cited. Authority. Learning. No argument. If Ehrman had given a slight nod to the fact that scholars are in fact divided over the question of John’s dependence upon the Synoptics, he makes it clear that the “reality” is that there is really no question that the fourth gospel is truly an independent source. (Presumably Ehrman thinks scholars are divided over the nature of the reality about the Gospels.)

To begin with, there are solid reasons for doubting that the Gospel of John is based on Mark or on either of the other two earlier Gospels, even though the matter is debated among scholars. But the reality is that most of the stories told about Jesus in the synoptic Gospels are missing from John, just as most of John’s stories, including his accounts of Jesus’s teachings, are missing from the synoptics.

Can you imagine the response of a scholar like Ehrman toward a mythicist who cited a single work that expressed but one side of a contentious scholarly issue in order to make their argument look authoritative? “Quote mining!” would surely be the criminal charge.

But let’s examine one of the examples of the way John’s version of a Synoptic anecdote is so “radically different” and thus presumably derived from a non-Synoptic source.

Simplest to assume . . . ignorance

Bart Ehrman says the differences between the Gospel of John and a synoptic gospel are so radical that “it is simplest to assume” that they drew upon quite different sources.

Don’t biblical scholars talk to each other? Why did Ehrman not refer to the abundantly published studies by his peers that address the way writers of the era imitated and re-wrote their literary sources?

The question is critical. Studies in recent years have demonstrated decisively that ancient authors imitated or re-adapted literary source material in ways that made it look quite different from the original. Indeed, more often than not, the art of imitation that was most valued was one that shunned verbal and thematic similarities.

Ehrman has apparently never heard of any of this scholarship, or if he has, has declared that it is “simplest to assume” ignorance of it and pronounce, instead, that the primary author of the Gospel of John drew upon an otherwise unattested oral tradition that knew nothing of the synoptic Gospels.

Let’s examine that assumption with a case study of the “cleansing of the Temple”.

The Cleansing of the Temple in Mark and John

Why is the Gospel of John so very much alike the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) yet so completely unlike them? It’s a bit like asking why Virgil’s epic poem of the founding of the Roman race by Aeneas of Troy is so alike yet so completely unlike Homer’s epics, the Iliad and Odyssey. Continue reading “Ehrman: “It is simplest to assume”? How the Gospel of John IS Dependent Upon Gospel of Mark”


2012-05-11

10. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Listening to the Sounds of Silence

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by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt. 10

Listening to the Sounds of Silence

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?
    • – Does anyone on the early Christian scene deny the existence of the Gospel Jesus?
    • – Ignatius’ letters the first to show support for the Gospel story
  • Sounds in silence: Or were they?
    • – Does 1 John reveal the first dispute over an historical Jesus?
    • – Should we expect Celsus to be a New Testament exegete?
    • – Trypho’s “groundless report”
    • – Sound of Silence: Ehrman fails to hear
  • Golden silence of the Rabbis
    • – Silent rabbis on Jesus’ non-existence
  • The silence of Irenaeus, Tertullian and their heretics
    • – Why do 2nd century apologists not attack the Christ cult of Paul as a heresy?
  • The sound of transition: From Paul to Orthodoxy
    • – The process of transition from a heavenly to earthly Christ
  • The sound of diversity: A Logos religion

    • – The Logos religion of the 2nd century apologists
  • Silence complete: Revisiting Josephus and Tacitus
    • – Ehrman’s unsupportable assumptions

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* * * * *

Evidence for Jesus from Outside the Gospels

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 94-97)

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Later Sources from Outside the New Testament

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Silence: Why did no-one until modern times deny the existence of Jesus?

Ehrman spends a few pages at the beginning of his Chapter Four on the old canard which too many historicists seem to think is a knockout blow against the mythicist theory: that no one in all the documents we possess from the earliest period right up to the 18th century ever suggests, or deals with an accusation, that Jesus never existed. A moment’s reflection ought to reveal why this might be the case. (There are in fact a handful of notable exceptions to this silence that I will go into shortly, which puts the lie to Ehrman’s sweeping statement.)

First of all, if an earthly Jesus did not exist for Christians of the Pauline variety of faith in a sacrificed Savior through almost the first hundred years of the movement, how would we expect to find a denial that he had? No one would have been claiming it.

We also have to ask, who would have been in a position to know that Christians were claiming something that was false?

When do we first see that claim surfacing? One can’t point to the Gospels themselves because the very issue in question is whether there is any support for their presentation of a supposedly historical figure and set of events; and their traditional dating is dubious.

The first direct reference by a Christian to an historical man who was crucified by Pilate is found in the letters of Ignatius, which if authentic can be dated no earlier than 107 CE, or if forgeries, some time after that. Is anyone going to be around in Antioch in 107 or later who had been alive in Galilee or Jerusalem three-quarters of a century earlier—with the upheaval and destruction of the Jewish War occurring in the interim—someone who knew everything that happened there in the 10-year period of Pilate’s governorship and was thus in a position to verify that such a figure never existed? A preposterous idea. Christians themselves show no sign of being familiar with the Gospel story, let alone that it had any circulation outside their circles, before the time of Ignatius. Continue reading “10. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Listening to the Sounds of Silence”


2012-05-09

Who Wrote That? Verbal Affinities in the New Testament (Part 2)

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by Tim Widowfield

(This post is a follow-on to Who Wrote That? Verbal Affinities Between the Lukan Prologue and Acts.)

In the comments section of the previous post, Squirrelloid asked, “I’m curious, have you also compared to the Pauline corpus as reconstructed for Marcion to see if the affinities you find are not present using his presumably less redacted versions?

With respect to the Lukan Prologue, one difficulty in finding statistically meaningful affinities outside of Luke/Acts is the rarity of many of the words. The author used a good many (NT) hapax legomena, no doubt because he was trying to sound more like Polybius than the LXX. And those words that aren’t unique are often found only in Acts (or perhaps Luke). We’re going to have to go farther afield than the prologue to find anything convincing regarding the Pauline epistles.

Servants of God

At least one curious exception to the above disclaimer is the word for “servant” in Luke 1:2.

A nineteenth century picture of Paul of Tarsus
A nineteenth-century picture of Paul of Tarsus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ὑπηρέται (hypēretai) – “servants, officers, attendants” — As we pointed out before, the author of the prologue uses this term when speaking about “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” The gospels generally use this word to denote an officer under the charge of a hostile group.  Hence, we have “officers of the Jews” seizing Jesus and binding him in John 18:12. I think many times you could translate it as “henchmen.”

Paul, of course, when he talks about servants of Christ, prefers the word for slave — δοῦλος (doulos). The one exception to the rule is in 1 Corinthians 4:1.

First the Greek (SBLGNT):

Οὕτως ἡμᾶς λογιζέσθω ἄνθρωπος ὡς ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ καὶ οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ.

And then the English (NASB):

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

Here Paul (or whoever wrote the passage) is using officer/servant instead of slave/servant for the first and only time in the entire corpus.  Interestingly, he’s using it in a sentence with a formulaic designation for the followers of Jesus. They are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Yet, if it is a formula, it is the only time we find it in the NT; nor do we find its constituent parts.  In other words, the exact phrases “ὑπηρέτας Χριστοῦ (servants of Christ) and “οἰκονόμους μυστηρίων θεοῦ (stewards of the mysteries of God)” never occur anywhere in the Bible except for 1 Corinthians 4:1. Continue reading “Who Wrote That? Verbal Affinities in the New Testament (Part 2)”


Evolution and Christianity are not compatible

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by Neil Godfrey

Darwin fish
Darwin fish (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Jerry Coyne’s latest post at Why Evolution Is True many of us have been directed to a Mike Aus article on RichardDawkins.net that confronts what should be obvious to all thinking people: evolution and Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths are not compatible.

Some excerpts:

If there is no original ancestor who transmitted hereditary sin to the whole species, then there is no Fall, no need for redemption, and Jesus’ death as a sacrifice efficacious for the salvation of humanity is pointless. The whole raison d’etre for the Christian plan of salvation disappears. . . . .

Science has now shown us that both selfish behavior and altruistic impulses are at least partially heritable traits. The instinct for self-preservation and a concern for the well-being of other individuals appear to have both played a role in the survival and evolution of our species. If that is the case, then the tension between “sin” and selflessness might actually help define who we are as humans. The project of religion has been sin eradication, and that approach now appears to be a fundamental denial of human nature. . . . . Continue reading “Evolution and Christianity are not compatible”


2012-05-07

9. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Form Criticism and the Sources of the Gospels

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by Earl Doherty

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.9

Form Criticism and the Sources of the Gospels

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Form Criticism and Oral Traditions About Jesus
    • The Fallacy of Form Criticism
    • The Written Evidence of Common Patterns Versus the Oral Hypothesis
    • Literary Construction out of Scripture, not Oral Traditions
    • Traditions in Thomas and Q — not independent
    • The Path to Jesus is Paved with Good Assumptions
    • How Ehrman Dates the Sources to the Day After Jesus
    • From Contradiction and Confusion to Total Chaos
  • The Aramaic Origins of (Some) Oral Traditions
    • Aramaic originals?
    • An Aramaic Son of Man?
  • Conclusion

* * * * *

The Oral Traditions About Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 83-93)

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Form Criticism and Oral Traditions About Jesus

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In a section entitled “Form Criticism and Oral Traditions About Jesus,” Ehrman encapsulates the traditional scholarly approach to analysing the content of the Gospels, and sets these beside the current views he is espousing. But there are inherent contradictions in his scenario.

The Fallacy of Form Criticism

The “form-critical” approach, or “form criticism,” has sought to understand how the various stories about Jesus took shape as they were being “transmitted orally.” Scholarship has long observed something curious, says Ehrman:

Why is it that so many miracle stories seem to follow the same basic pattern? A person comes up to Jesus, his or her problem (or illness) is described, there is a brief interchange with Jesus, Jesus agrees to heal the person, he does so by a word or by a touch, and all the crowds marvel. Every miracle story seems to have the same elements.

Or take the controversy stories. Jesus or his disciples do something that offends the Jewish leaders; the leaders protest; Jesus has a conversation with them; and the story ends with Jesus delivering a withering one-liner that shows that he gets the better of them. Time after time, same form. (p. 84, emphasis added)

As Ehrman puts it, form criticism has asked: How did the various kinds of stories assume their various forms?

The stories about Jesus came to be shaped in the process of telling and retelling, as they assumed their characteristic forms. This means that the stories were changed, sometimes radically, when they were retold, and thus formed over the years. (p. 84)

Something doesn’t compute here. Ehrman has just told us that all the healing miracle stories, for example, are found in the Gospels in a more or less identical form. But oral transmission over a wide area, within an uncoordinated movement, is not likely to produce conformity. Quite the opposite. Continue reading “9. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Form Criticism and the Sources of the Gospels”


2012-05-06

Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 3 — Criteria

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by Neil Godfrey

This post concludes the series of notes from Adam Winn’s Mark and the Elijah-Elisha narrative : considering the practice of Greco-Roman imitation in the search for Markan source material. Winn concludes his first chapter with six criteria he hopes will help us determine literary dependence between two texts. He has derived these criteria from his study of the way we can see Virgil imitated Homer’s epics.

One question that interests me here is whether Winn’s analysis can be usefully applied to the question of whether the Gospel of John was based on the Gospel of Mark, and if so, to what extent. Does our knowledge that an author would sometimes radically restructure his source material offer us a window into observing the fourth gospel’s author moving the Gospel of Mark’s “temple cleansing” episode from the last stages of the narrative to its beginning?

Another question: is it possible the techniques of “imitation” can help us decide whether the Gospel of Luke was the last Gospel that in part drew upon the Gospel of John, or whether the Gospel of John imitated, in part, Luke?

There are several others, but let’s keep our feet on the floor in these early days. Continue reading “Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 3 — Criteria”


2012-05-05

Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Aeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Troja...
Aeneas tells Dido the misfortunes of the Trojan city. Oil on canvas, 1815. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post continues my notes from Adam Winn’s book that he produced from a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Dominican Biblical Institute, Mark and the Elijah-Elisha narrative: considering the practice of Greco-Roman imitation in the search for Markan source material. The first post explained why Winn believes a study of the ways in which the Roman poet Virgil imitated and rewrote Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, in order to compose his own epic, the Aeneid, has potential relevance for a study of how the author of the Gospel of Mark might have used his written sources.

We outlined two of Virgil’s techniques of imitation in that first post, conflation and reversal, and in this post we look at the other techniques. A third post will list and explain criteria Winn will propose to assist us in analysing the Gospel’s literary sources.

Diffusion

Diffusion refers to Virgil’s technique of taking a single episode or character from his source (Homer) and dividing it into multiple episodes or characters. To illustrate this technique Winn points to the way Virgil has based three different characters on aspects of the life (or rather death) of one person in Homer’s Odyssey, Elpenor.

  • Elpenor was the youngest of Odysseus’s crew. While on Circe’s island he climbed up to a roof-top to sleep, but in the morning he forgot where he was and fell to his death.
  • Odysseus, leaving in haste to carry out his mission to visit Hades, was unaware of his fate. In Hades Elpenor’s ghost was the first one Odysseus met. Elpenor explained how he died and begged Odysseus return to where he died and give him a proper burial.
  • Odysseus carried out Elpenor’s wishes. He returned to Circe’s island to carry out Elpenor’s wishes. Odysseus mourned, cut logs for a pyre, burned the body and erected a grave marked with an oar.
  1. Virgil used the Elpenor narrative as his template for the death of Palinurus.
  • At sea Palinurus, the helmsman, fell asleep and thus fell to his death in the sea.
  • When Aeneas, like Odysseus, visited Hades, Palinurus was the first to meet him. Like Elpenor, Palinurus told Aeneas how he had died and also begged for a burial. But Virgil never recounts Aeneas burying Palinurus.
  1. In Virgil’s epic, the Sybil oracle instructed Aeneas to bury Misenus before he attempted to enter Hades. This Aeneas did. He found the body, mourned, cut logs for a pyre, then erected a grave marked with an oar.
  2. Homer’s epic portrayed Odysseus returning from Hades to bury Elpenor. Virgil did not depict Aeneas burying Palinurus, but he did have Aeneas, on his return from Hades, burying his nurse, Caieta.

In Virgil’s imitation of the Homeric episode of Elpenor, we see Virgil using imitative techniques we have not yet seen . . . He essentially turns one Homeric character into three, i.e., Elpenor becomes Palinurus, Misenus, and Caieta. He also takes the events of one Homeric episode and diffuses them into three different episodes. (p. 29)

Compare what we find in the Gospel of Mark. Continue reading “Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 2”