I asked Dr Hurtado point blank:
I grant that there are many questions that require much training in order to make reliable judgements. But what specific expertise do I need to make “to make a reliable judgement” on whether or not Jesus was historical?
The good doctor explained most explicitly:
To answer (yet again, and hopefully for the last time!) your last question: The expertise you need to make a reliable judgement on whether Jesus was or wasn’t a historical figure is the expertise that scholars have to work up to present any judgement on the matter that might win the assent or at least respect of scholarly peers: You need a damn good knowledge of the languages of the original texts (so you can speak reliably to what they say and not be reliant on others); you need a damn good knowledge of the other historical sources of the time; you need a damn good familiarity with the intricate analysis of key materials (such as the Gospel tradition and its literary and rhetorical features and earmarks of provenance); you need a damn good knowledge of the ancient Jewish religious, social, and historical setting, and of the larger historical and religious environment; you need to hone analytical and judgement skills and have them tested and challenged by accomplished scholars; and you need them to publish work that wins the respect of competent scholars, demonstrating an ability to mount a successful case and withstand the (often fierce) criticism of other scholars. These are the sorts of things needed to have your judgement on matters taken seriously and possibly influential, Neil, if by “reliable” we man a judgment that doesn’t just satisfy you but that wins the respect of people with the cometence [sic] to assess it.
Now, does it matter that of those with this high degree of training overwhelmingly (I’d say unanimously but there’s sure to be some exception, as there almost always seems to be) the judgement is that the best conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth lived, circulated in Roman Palestine, developed a certain following, and generated a sufficient opposition that it led to his execution. Should it matter to you that this is so, that this is the judgement of those (and I emphasize of various personal stances, including Jewish scholars, atheists or non-religious, as well as various Christian stances) with the sort of expertise that I describe? That’s for you to decide. But don’t try to justify a reluctance to accept this view as if you were doing so on some superior grounds.
So there you have it. If a poor Christian wants salvation now it looks like they need faith not only in Jesus but in the scholars who in their esoteric wisdom are the only ones who can truly know in any objective sense that Jesus did exist.
I think I’ll stick to the study of other historical persons even lay people can see the plain and clear evidence for their existence.
What Dr Hurtado just may have given us in his reply is a clear pronouncement of the irrelevance of New Testament studies to the real world.
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