Scholarly Power to Walk Through Solid Words

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by Neil Godfrey

One of the more remarkable abilities many Historical Jesus scholars acquire as a result of their specialist training is the skill of being able to make the words they read in manuscripts mean something other than what is written. An intellectual counterpart of turning hard liquor into bootleg wine.

Last night I stumbled across another example that relates to recent posts by Earl Doherty on Bart Ehrman’s treatment of the Philippian Hymn: The scholar wrote that the Bible said X and then explained to readers, presumably to reassure any who may have been a little startled, that what the Bible really meant was Y.

First, he translated the Philippian Hymn . . . .

Christ Jesus who . . . . emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and becoming in human likeness. And finding himself in human form . . . .

He then discussed the various passages and when he came to the words quoted above, explained:

So Jesus’ self-emptying is portrayed here as having involved his taking a slave-form and being born in human likeness — that is, as a human. (p. 96, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?)

That’s the sort of transubstantiation of meaning one expects from cultists or fundamentalists. Human likeness does not mean human. Surely conventional assumptions are the only explanation for this scholar’s inability to accept the difference between the two terms in this case.

The change of the Greek genomenos (γενόμενος) from “becoming” to “born” reminds us of the recent attempt by the leading member of The Jesus Project (c) to conveniently avoid the most common meaning of the word in preference for “born” which it can mean in the right contexts. Of course the context in the hymn is about the change of form or likeness of an exalted divinity, so “becoming” is the most apt translation. (There are other words that more regularly and specifically meaning “born”.)

Don’t get me wrong. I like a lot of what Larry Hurtado has written. And I agree with a central thesis of the book the above passage comes from — that visions were central to the foundations of Christianity. But here, like so many others, he walks right over a passage that defies conventional wisdom as deftly as Jesus walked over water.

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19 thoughts on “Scholarly Power to Walk Through Solid Words”

  1. Rook Hawkins (or Tom Verenna or whatever is his real name) posted a brown nose grovel to Stephanie Fisher, an attack dog for the Jesus Process who systematically traduces collegial analysis, as seen in her recent endorsement of Hoffmann’s wild curses directed towards Neil and his children. Rook’s goal in this post read like a pathetic careerist suckup to Hoffmann, in the same spirit as the flimsy garbage linked on Rook’s home page attacking DM Murdock. Neil’s comment was justified. Why would Verenna “hope that one day the burnt bridges that divide [him from Fisher] now can be repaired” if he had any scholarly integrity?

    1. The sniping between Tom and Steph has continued for some time. Check out the comments here:


      I would find it difficult to mend fences with somebody who repeatedly called me an incompetent liar. Besides, she believes that “leopards can’t change their spots,” so once you’re on her list, you can’t get off it. (As we discussed earlier here, it’s odd that the Oxonian Humanists have so little faith in human nature.)

              1. I might also point out that some time ago Tom refused to publish my comments documenting factual and methodological errors in some of his denigrations of others and me. At one time I asked him for a reason for his refusal to let those comments appear he referred to such comments as “spam”.

                Time will tell whether he considers my apology spam too.

          1. Love Mr Verenna’s latest piece of free advice to James McGrath on the finer points of rhetoric. Apparently saying “many mythicists, those who are determined to be denialists” is “accurate and erudite. And fair.” Thanks Tom for your erudite instruction, you must be pleased as punch at your own wise erudition about “denialism”. Does that accuracy and fairness mean that denying the Historical Jesus is akin to denying the Holocaust, or maybe just denying climate change or evolution? Seems Tom and McGrath are in furious agreement that denying the Historical Jesus is as bad as creationism. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Toady to apologists, lose any integrity. And Carr thinks the author of such craven self-puffery deserves apologies?

    2. There’s something a little unhinged about the way Stephanie Fisher attacks anyone espousing a mythicist position. It frankly reminds me of how Scientologists attack apostates, attempting to drag out any past skeletons, creating web sites, etc. She has a similar tone to her posts as well. Therapy might be in order, in my opinion. At any rate, I can see Tom wanting it to just go away.

      1. Steph is not just a Believer; she is also apparently an Casey acolyte. Late in life, I seem to recall Casey saying, Steph travelled thousands of miles (from Australia or environs?) to study with specifically Casey.

        So emotional attachment, zeal, even a bit of cultism, is one of her mainsprings.

        That of course is the main reason most Historicists attack Mythicism; because of an underlying emotional attachment to beliefs, and sacred cult attachments. Not because of intellectual arguments.

        Under the scholarly patina, is … the Zealot. The defender of the faith.

        1. I have preferred to think of Steph as being in a class of her own. But it is difficult to understand the willingness of some scholars to give her a platform and support for some of her pronouncements that have nothing to do with her specialty, Q.

    3. Tom/Rook has jettisoned his atheism, no doubt sincerely, but at the same time this has happily removed him from Jim West’s hit list. He is young and regularly one observes pressure upon him to conform to the right values and right thoughts of the scholarly guild, most publicly from McGrath and Watts. He knows whom to publicly denounce as the “correct enemies” of scholarship to enhance his credibility with the guild. I did decline his request to promote his book a year or two before it was even published. I am not sure if he was more surprised by my refusal to promote a book I had not read than I was that he would even approach me to do so. I find it unconscionable to denigrate others and their books one has not even read and to continue to do so despite being alerted to factual errors in those denunciations. My comments to Tom’s blog have long been moderated and not allowed to see the light of day. A late night and whisky did not encourage me to think that my own denigration of Tom would be any more likely to see the light of day. I cannot deny I have long lost respect for Tom but it was wrong for me to publicly attack him in the way I did and I have posted an apology for him to make public if he so wishes.

    1. Tom has refused to publish my unreserved apology for my attack on him, and for which I offered no excuses, that was posted to him on 24th July 3:58 am (the time stamp is still visible to me since he continues to hold it in moderation). He explains on his blog his reasons for doing so:

      He sent along an apology, but since this whole thing was a game, his apology is meaningless. Frankly, I don’t have time to pander to Godfrey’s game-playing. I have actual work to do. I sent his ‘unreserved’ apology to James McGrath, who might have more use for it.

      Unfortunate, given that Tom’s post was itself an apology and begging for forgiveness for intemperate remarks that he explains were out of character, but this is Tom’s right and I only have myself to blame. (It seems that while Tom has no time to let an apology of mine pass moderation or anything positive from me appear on his blog he does have enough time to publicly denigrate me and let through a single comment of mine that is self-damning.)

      As for my insult being made a public attack on Tom that was entirely Tom’s doing. All my comments to his blog have long been on moderation and he has not allowed any of my positive comments to see the light of day and I had no reason to expect this one to, either.

      I can only say in response to Tom’s claim that my apology was part a ‘game’ that I would think a game is suggested in cases where a blog owner refuses to publish any comments at all from me in defence against Tom’s attacks and criticism against me and others, yet does choose to publish the one comment he can use to damn me. But as I have said above, Tom has unfortunately learned whom to kick on his way up the ladder of his career.

      (P.S. Given our recent discussion elsewhere of blog comments on other sites being refused, removed or edited, and the fact that none of my comments to Tom’s blog has been allowed to see the light of day apart from the recent disgraceful one, it is unfortunate that a number of other bloggers have chosen to associate me with commenter’s views on this blog to which I have in fact responded with some scepticism, just as they have chosen to overlook the free reign I have given commenters who argue against historicity or my views, too. I have even created a separate page for one such commenter.)

  2. I see the doyen of wisdom and erudition His Rookness has deigned to open a cordial dialogue

    My concern was the aggressive insulting term he used “denialist”, which he proceeded to pompously dignify as “erudite and fair”. (Perhaps he could demonstrate my irredeemable idiocy by noting the split infinitive in the last sentence). “Denialist” is a purely political term, implying hostility to reason and evidence. So while the puppy whimpers for Steph’s favour, which the ice queen cruelly refuses, ‘denialists’ like me are to be cast into the outer darkness.

    In my conversations with Tom Verenna he has displayed all the erudition and courtesy of an attack dog, an attitude that goes back to his so-called Rational Responders Squad where the rule was Rook’s Way or the Highway. His problem is my advocacy of astrotheology, which he regards in principle as a method of thought to be despised and rejected, worthy only of combing for points that can be misrepresented a la Ehrman, in his effort to stomp on heads while climbing the greasy pole.

    The idea that mythicism can be coherent without recognition of the deep links between Christianity and older stellar religions is just ignorant. Astrotheology should be the topic of collegial analysis, not political sniping and prejudicial exclusion.

    Acharya S, the most prominent advocate of astrotheology, also falls into Rook’s “denialist” category, hence his bizarre and wild campaign against her. These are difficult topics, and it is to be expected that comments will need clarification. For example, is it simply “stupid” to say Augustine was once a Mandaean, as Tom parades as an Acharyan howler, somewhat like the famous rooster statue? Augustine was a Manichaean, and Mani was arguably a Mandaean, so the link is there in general terms, unless you want to parade on a pikestaff the head of someone who refers to this link. For example http://orthodoxchurchfathers.com/fathers/npnf104/npnf1043.htm discusses the close connection of the Mandaean and the Manichaean cosmogony.

    Errors can be corrected, as Murdock has done regarding a misdating of Augustine in her 1999 book. But to blow up such things as this misdating into an attitude of denial of evidence and reason, as Tom parades on his blog, looks more like a shark sniffing for blood than a scholar looking for truth.

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