2012-08-11

‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ — Introduction

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by Neil Godfrey

What is the significance of the title of this book edited by Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas S. Verenna. The subtitle is “The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus” — “of the Figure of”, not “of Jesus”. Perhaps that helps guard the book from being seen as too bluntly opening up the Christ Myth question. The main title comes from Mark 6:1-6 —

And he went out from thence; and he cometh into his own country; and his disciples follow him.

2 And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, Whence hath this man these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given unto this man, and what mean such mighty works wrought by his hands?

3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him.

4 And Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.

6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages teaching.  (ASV)

Now the themes latent in this passage and that are drawn out in this introduction are the same ones that led me to launch one of my very first diffident attempts to explore questions of historicity in an academic forum in 1998: Re: Jesus the Carpenter? in Crosstalk. Fourteen years later I am reading the same question, with the same implications for the historicity of the exchange between Jesus and his neighbours, being raised not by an amateur outsider in an open scholarly forum but by scholars in a book so prohibitively expensive that it is beyond the reach of the general reader — and with a clear warning that I am not to reproduce any of it for wider sharing, without even the usual allowance of short passages for reviews.

Nonetheless, this Introduction chapter has been available online since 2010 at The Bible and Interpretation — even complete with its annoying “itinerate” typo.  (And given that it is already online I trust I have a right to quote passages from it here.) So you can go there and read what Thompson and Verenna write for themselves or stay here and read what I say they write, with some of my own commentary. 😉

The significance of the story about Jesus’ encounter with his home-town folk, for the purposes of this volume, is that it encapsulates two themes that are found reiterated throughout all the canonical gospels, and that testify to traditional theological rather than historical motifs:

  1. Jesus’ hands do wonderful works, though only a few know and experience these;
  2. The prophet is rejected by his own people who are to be replaced by a new people who will be the true worshipers.

The carpenter/artisan and skilled hands image evokes the idea of a Jewish Hephaestus. Hephaestus the skilled craftsman who made many wonderful artefacts for the gods was, according to Hesiod, born of the (virgin) goddess Hera without sexual union with her husband, Zeus. (Theogony, 927) The Jewish Scriptures have their own hero, Bezalel (Besal’el) who was divinely gifted with great skill to manufacture the wonderful earthly counterparts of heavenly structures (Exodus 31:1-11; 35-39 . . . )

The character of the prophet unrecognized and mistreated by his own people is also a commonplace throughout the biblical literature: the Psalms, Joseph, Jeremiah . . . .

The Gospel of Mark, it is suggested in this Introduction, hints at a reiteration of the Moses figure in Jesus. It was Moses who combined the two motifs of miracle worker and rejected prophet. Moses was forced to flee from his Egyptian homeland but returned to promise deliverance through powerful works performed with “a mighty hand” (Exodus 3:19 et al). (This coheres with other indicators not touched on in this book that Mark’s Jesus was modeled on Moses: for example, after a royal plot against Jesus’ life is announced Jesus departs with a very large mixed multitude towards a sea, after which he will ascend a mountain and announce the beginning of a new collective of twelve as his own people.)

The themes of rejection of the true prophet and the replacement of the “old” family who are blind with a “new” family who truly see and obey is then explored through the Gospel of Matthew. This latter Gospel, he points out, gathers into a sequential unit these themes and presents them in the format of “a living parable” that is structured upon Isaiah 6:9-10 —

He said, “Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Those familiar with other works by Thompson, such as The Messiah Myth and The Mythic Past (also published as The Bible in History) will recognize that he is finding in the Gospels the same motifs and ideology that he argues are reiterated throughout the literature in the earlier Jewish sacred texts. As in the old works, so in these “new” gospels, we find the literary crowds being blinded by God so they cannot understand and be forgiven, so that the readers of these narratives can see in them the failed and lost generation that they, the readers, are meant to replace as the new and understanding and obedient people of God.

The gospel author draws again on the Jewish scriptures to write his own new version of the old, old story — the overturning of the blindness among the new people of God chosen to replace the old disobedient generation in the story — as found in Psalm 78:1-4

Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.

(I think those who see in the New Testament epistles the message that the Gospel and knowledge of God (through Jesus as his image) is something newly revealed, a mystery that was long hidden from the world, but is now revealed in the likes of Paul and his converts, would find a fruitful exploration of this theme by studying its oft-repeated literary antecedents, as here in the Psalms.)

The message is that the story of Jesus’ rejection by his own people who ironically see in this wonderworker with his hands only a carpenter is itself a parable expressing the age-old message found throughout the Jewish scriptures.

Matthew (I also think Mark) is preoccupied with re-writing Isaiah 6, Psalm 78, and the rest, and as such has no interest in a portrayal of any historical figure.

(I have argued the same point repeatedly in posts on this blog, applying Thompson’s analysis of Old Testament literature to the Gospels, so it is reassuring to see Thompson himself making the connections explicit.)

The Gospel of Luke carries forward the same themes in its own narrative parables. The Introduction makes an interesting observation on Luke’s treatment of Nazareth as a contrast to Matthew’s. Where Matthew had Jesus being brought up in Nazareth “so that he might be called a Nazarene”, Luke has Jesus’ parents leave Nazareth before he was born. He then depicts Jesus as returning there when the time came to begin his ministry. The role of the Samson-like “Nazarene” (presumably one of the Bible’s many puns) is given to his forerunner, John the Baptist (Luke 1:14-15).

But here at the same “home-town” the drama of Jesus turns on the same two motifs: the miracle-working deliverer from God and his rejection and suffering at the hands of his people. The home-town people who should belong to Jesus are to be replaced by a new people — the readers of the gospel. The messenger is once again driven by the spirit of God and speaks of his inevitable suffering at the hands of his own people. In Luke the message of deliverance and incoming kingdom of God is a replay of the ancient and ubiquitous “song of the poor man”. The miracles of Elijah and Elisha are evoked and his people are compare unfavourably to gentiles. This prompts their furious rejection of him to the extent that, much like Mark’s Jesus drove the demon-possessed pigs off a cliff before being rejected by the locals (Mark 5:11-17), the Nazareth crowd take Jesus to the edge of the cliff with intent to cast him down.

The message is the same. God’s people are being replaced by a new people through the deliverance of the miracle-working deliverer who must suffer yet who overturns the old order to bring in the outcast and raise up the lowly as spiritual replacements.

The same message of the lost and the saved is just as characteristic of the fourth gospel. In both Luke and John the Jews, the “rightful” people of God, are compared unfavourably to those they despised, the Samaritans. The people wonder at the amazing powers and news of Jesus at first, but many turn against him soon afterwards. As in Mark, Jesus heals “only a few sick folk” who typify the few who were once outcasts but are now called to take their place as the new Israel of God.

So the title, “Is this not the carpenter?”, evokes the “Jesus as Hephaestus” myth. It is this myth of Jesus — carrying the torch of the myth reiterated throughout the writings of the Jewish scriptures and even the wider Near Eastern literature — which is the subject of the book’s chapters.

Why should any of this be controversial?

One might ask why this question should by such a controversial one. New Testament scholars and no doubt many interested lay people are aware that the Jesus of the gospels is not the historical Jesus. Perhaps the difference is that this Introduction is arguing that the first task of historians is to understand the Jesus we do have — the literary and theological (mythical) one of the gospels — and to seek to understand coherently and comprehensively the nature of the New Testament literature, in particular on a continuum with other Jewish writings and scriptures, in their own right. That is, the question of the historical Jesus is replaced as the main goal of investigation by an more complete contextual understanding of the literature we have and the Jesus it contains.

But why should even that be controversial? If scholars have had a vested professional interest (not to mention a faith-interest for many) in exploring a will-o’-the-wisp (nothing more than a scholarly construct built upon an unfounded assumption) then some no doubt will feel that their own work will be harder to justify.

If the texts they have seen as soil to be dug with an archaeologist’s spade to recover buried artefacts of history are shown to have originated in the more ethereal world of ideas, literature, philosophy-theology, and not from historical narrative traditions, then their past efforts may indeed be threatened.  Ideally, however, deeper understanding is surely more usefully seen as a gateway to new insights, new models, new intellectual adventures.

The Quest for the Historical Jesus

So scholars for some time now are said to have “avoided direct questions regarding the historicity of Jesus”. The historicity of Jesus — the assumption of his historicity — has been securely embedded within two other discussions that have been the focus of scholarly inquiry: the sayings of Jesus and the life of Jesus. This inquiry has necessarily proceeded from the assumption of historicity of Jesus.

This double quest for history behind the texts has led scholars to fail to seriously enough take account of the nature of those source texts, even to the extent of ignoring and misunderstanding their functions.

Ah yes, and this, too, is what I have attempted to address many times in posts here and in other venues. James McGrath has even written that literary analysis of the Gospels is not of any interest to “the historian” who is seeking to uncover the historical Jesus behind the texts. On the contrary, it has everything to do — or it should have — with how historians evaluate the function and nature of their texts and the sorts of questions that can be applied validly to them.

My own experience in exchanges with scholars has been that they have often tried to bypass this problem by saying that if the gospel authors write allegory and rewrite Old Testament and other stories to construct their narratives then that merely shows how highly or theologically they regarded the figure of Jesus. They very often say that such narratives have nothing to do with their really being a genuine historical Jesus behind it all. But it does have everything to do with the origins and creation of that gospel Jesus. The two sides of the argument thus become:

  1. that Jesus in the New Testament literature can be shown to have been crafted entirely from theological ideas and other literary narratives;
  2. and on the contrary, scholars can merely surmise that this Jesus was also the deposit from oral traditions tied directly to historical events.

The first position implies that the authors had no interest in any historical traditions at all. The second position is either contradicted or rendered irrelevant by the first.

I copy from the online article (not the book, of course):

The dichotomous structure of this debate has typically made alternative explanations for the ubiquitous allegorical interpretations and narrative reiterations and allusions of a wide variety of both ancient Near Eastern and biblical motifs, themes and tropes irrelevant in the eyes of many scholars, in spite of the fact that an unquestioning acceptance of the New Testament figures of Jesus, Paul and the disciples as historical can at times be shown to ignore and misunderstand the implicit functions of our texts.

What happened to the radical critics of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? Bruno Bauer and others did open up the question of Jesus’ historicity through their searing criticisms of many of the assumptions among biblical scholars but, our Introduction informs us, without “a coherent comprehensive understanding of the New Testament literature”, they also left radical rationalist criticism with an unfortunate stereotypical image.

Ever since then similar radical critiques are dismissed as not belonging to “serious” scholars (Michael Grant) or emanating from “rationalist dogmatists” (Geza Vermes).  (I’m not the only one to have expressed curiosity over the negative view of “scepticism” among many New Testament scholars. Many have bluntly frowned upon sceptical approaches to scholarly inquiry and even argued for a Christian ethic that treats texts as fellow neighbours who must be loved and believed until the scholar is forced to doubt their contents — the “hermeneutic of charity”.)

So the question of historicity has been dismissed by scholars without argument. Scholars investigating the historical Jesus are encouraged to “ignore both literary and theological issues central to an understanding of the New Testament narrative.”

Efforts to uncover “the historical Jesus” necessarily begin from the outset with the assumption that there is a historical Jesus to discover. And we know the many different types of Jesus that have been produced ever since, many of them contradictory. Schweitzer’s observation that scholars find a Jesus in their own image has become a truism.

The role genre studies play in investigations of the Jesus of the New Testament rests largely on an analysis of intertextuality, which is well defined in terms of an analysis of the functions of tale-types, stock figures, sayings, motifs, narrative patterns and thematic elements through a process of reiteration, refraction, allusion and emulation.

An historical Jesus is a hypothetical derivative of scholarship. It is no more a fact than is an equally hypothetical historical Moses or David.

To the extent that New Testament literature was written with literary, allegorical and, indeed, theological and mythic purpose, rather than as an account of historical events, there is significant need, not to speak of warrant, to doubt the historicity of its figures to the extent that such figures owe their substance to such literature. . . .  Abraham, Isaac, Moses and Sarah, Ruth and Boaz, Jonah and his big fish are but a handful of characters found in the Bible, without the slightest historicity. They are literary creations.

The figures of New Testament discourse must also be critically examined in the same light, for the New Testament is to be defined neither as a history of the early Christian church nor as an account of the life of a man named Jesus and of that of his followers. (my formatting)

Analysing intertextuality and genre studies have been the themes of many of my own posts. More often than not they are based on work scholars themselves have produced. I hope to produce many more. It is a shame that so many other scholars have reacted with such unnecessarily acrimony.

Next post I’ll revisit Jim West’s opening chapter in Is This Not the Carpenter? This has also been available online since 2010 at The Bible and Interpretation. Back then discussed his article on this blog. I will do so again with a few additional thoughts that have come to me since then.

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17 thoughts on “‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ — Introduction”

  1. Neil: The two sides of the argument thus become:
    1. that Jesus in the New Testament literature can be shown to have been crafted entirely from theological ideas and other literary narratives;
    2. and on the contrary, scholars can merely surmise that this Jesus was also the deposit from oral traditions tied directly to historical events.
    The first position implies that the authors had no interest in any historical traditions at all. The second position is either contradicted or rendered irrelevant by the first.
    ————————–
    Neil, argument No.1 is faulty. It cannot be shown that the JC figure is “crafted entirely from theological ideas and other literary narratives”. This really is the crux of the JC debate. There is the world of difference between claiming JC is historical and claiming, as I do, that the JC figure is created to reflect not only theological ideas and literary narratives – but the lives of historical figures as well. Doherty has conceded this point – without making any serious attempt to clarify it…

    (“I can well acknowledge that elements of several representative, historical figures fed into the myth of the Gospel Jesus, since even mythical characters can only be portrayed in terms of human personalities, especially ones from their own time that are familiar and pertinent to the writers of the myths.”

    http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/rfset5.htm#Mary)

    My own attempt to lay out the historical building blocks that are reflected in the symbolic, or literary, JC figure is at the link below. Just because JC is not a historical figure – it does not follow that history, that historical figures, were not relevant to the creation of that gospel figure.

    http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=313038

    Both the historicists and the mythicist both have something to offer in the debate over the gospel story. The historicists seek a historical core. But if there is a historical core to the gospel story – there is no necessity to assume that the historical core is to be found in a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus. And if there is a historical core, historical figures relevant to the early Jewish Christians – there is no need for a mythicist position to deny such a core. All a mythicist position entails is that the Jesus figure in the gospels is not a historical figure, that the gospel Jesus figure is not the historical core.

    Neil, however much we as humans value our intellectual evolution; our ability to think great things, we are not just thinking machines. We are also flesh and blood – we need a hand to hold. On that very basic level, any ahistoricist/mythicist theory that is seeking to deny any relevance to the gospel JC story for historical figures, of flesh and blood figures. is, to be very blunt, anti-humanitarian. We do look to others; we find inspiration in the lives of others. Our lives are impacted by the actions of others – for good or for ill. That is our human condition. People matter – not just their ability to think. A man is only great in his ability, though his own life, to enrich the lives of others. That old saying – one for all and all for one! – My late husband always used to say to me – don’t give me another god damn idea – give me a hug…That’s been a lasting influence on my world view…..;-) People matter, flesh and blood matters – today – and 2000 years ago.

    As to JC being cast in the role of a carpenter/stonemason/masterbuilder – these crafts were involved in building Solomon’s temple. Thus, while the Moses story can have some relevance for the JC story, the carpenter/stonemason/masterbuilder identity, given to this figure, has perhaps a more relevant, symbolic, connection to the building of the new spiritual temple of which that figure is going to be the cornerstone. (Mark 12:10)

  2. Maryhelena:

    Nice of you to point out again that the word “mythicism” is too vague as such, and needs spelling out its connotations: “All a mythicist position entails is that the Jesus figure in the gospels is not a historical figure, that the gospel Jesus figure is not the historical core.” Which means that mythicism means nothing more than “the denial of the historicity of Jesus”, with Jesus being the character defined in the NT documents, including Paul and the Gospels.

    Interesting anecdote about your husband. This man needed affection and a hug. And he wanted to get it from a woman. How can we deny that women exist as a source of affection, comfort and emotivity? Only modern political correctness, as an intellectual police imposing mental blinders, wants to blind us to the reality of differences in life. As you point out, we are brains, but our brains are not just reasoning, but perception and emotions and feelings. Descartes was wrong, human brains are not just for reasoning. Thinking involves much more, and Antonio Damasio showed it in his many books”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant%C3%B3nio_Dam%C3%A1sio

    The big question, Die Frage nach der Historizität von Jesus Christus” was the major topic of NT scholars around 1880-1930. It has been now revived with a vengeance. We are in the midst of a new craze, not yet as intense and vigorous as it was 100 years ago, but it its picking up steam. To note:

    * In Aug. 2011, Robert M. Price published ”The Christ Myth & Its Problems”, the first in a new wave of dealing with the questions first asked by Arthur Drews in his ”Christ Myth” (1909-12).
    * In March 2012, Bart D. Ehrman published ”Did Jesus Exist? Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth”.
    * In April, Richard Carrier published ”Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus”.
    * Then in July, Thomas Thompson and Thomas Verenna published ”Is This Not the Carpenter? – The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus”, a compendium of the Copenhagen International Seminar.
    * And now, in August, another Biblical Scholar is coming out with a new book on the question of Jesus historicity. Maurice Casey, a world expert on Aramaic, takes the time to step out of his specialty to join the craze of writing about the historicity of Jesus, and, trying, 100 years later, to answer Arthur Drews. Casey’s book is titled: ”Jesus – Evidence and Argument, or Mythicist Myths? ”(Aug. 2012, Bloomsbury, London). With a striking face of Jesus on the cover. The argument will be likely based on Aramaic, that Casey reads and speaks. His dismissal of the ”Christ Myth” could be summarized thus: “Drews? He wasn’t even a competent Aramaist!”
    Many more such books are in the works. It is a fair bet that every major publisher will want to have one book on his list dealing with Drews’s ”The Christ Myth”, that is the question of Jesus’s historicity. This is a good time to remember the contribution of Arthur Drews to current controversies by putting
    mythicism in the world’s consciousness.
    (Still, such a confusing word!)

    1. Hi, ROO

      Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of the term ‘mythicism’.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_myth_theory

      “The Christ myth theory (also known as Jesus mythicism, the Jesus myth theory and the nonexistence hypothesis) is the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person, but is a fictional or mythological character created by the early Christian community.[1][2][3][4] Some proponents argue that events or sayings associated with the figure of Jesus in the New Testament may have been drawn from one or more individuals who actually existed, but that none of them were in any sense the founder of Christianity.”

      There is nothing in that to deny or discount there being historical figures relevant to the gospel writers and their JC literary storyboard. When I first came to the realization there was no historical JC, it never entered my mind that history was going to be irrelevant for that gospel storyboard. No historical JC; JC a pseudo-historical figure; JC a ‘salvation’ interpretation of Jewish history; JC a prophetic interpretation of the OT messianic texts – all of that, does not discount Hasmonean and Herodian history as being relevant to that pseudo-history. So – pick up a history book!

      Yes, exciting times for the JC debate. Fascinating to watch the JC historicists take up their positions for the big showdown….;-) Unfortunately, they are seeking to support a phantom of their own imaginings….and that colossus of our 21st century, the mighty internet, barbarian hordes at the ready, is ready to light the torch of reality…..

      —————————————————–

      http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com…maurice-casey/

      Mythicism: A Story of Bias, Incompetence and Falsehood

      Unlike published scholarly work, the internet is uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable. Two of the most influential writers of published work advocating the mythicist view, that is, the view that Jesus was not a historical figure, but rather a myth, appeal directly to an audience on the internet.

      The internet audience is ‘lay’, but it is not open-minded. It has both ‘Christian apologists’, whom mythicists love to hate, and atheists who are determinedly anti-Christian. Both groups consist largely of people with closed minds who are impervious to evidence and argument, a quite different world from the critical scholars among whom I am happy to have spent most of my life, whether they were Christian, Jewish or irreligious.

      ——————————————————-

      1. Maryhelena:

        I think you might be beginning a fight here, that you don’t really need to begin. Since, just as you’ve noted, the standard encyclopdia account of Mythicism DOES allow that there could be SOME historical sources for the Jesus myth; but it suggests that however, those sources were from sources not entirely like the legend of “Jesus” that eventually developed. So that in effect, the Jesus legend is mostly mythic; and its historical roots, are not too direct.

        In particular, I’m arguing that there are DOZENS of “real” persons, (and dozens more mythical ones), whose stories were amalgamated, conflated, composited, accreted, to form the story of “Jesus.” And note this: in part because of the sheer number of sources, it would be inaccurate to say that there is “an” historical source for Jesus. There are dozens of historical inputs; but finally they are still disant enough from “Jesus,” that it would be inaccurate to say that there is “an historical source for Jesus.”

        I think you’re misreading current Mythicist statements, and arguing against a position that few hold. Many reject “historicism”; but what they are really intending to reject, is probably a single historical source theory; a single proto-Jesus.

        As you note, even the standard encyclopedia account of “Mythicism” has Mythicism allowing that there might have been one or more historical events, VAGUELY feeding into the Jesus Legend. Though finally, in this theory the historical sources are not said to be firmly “real”; or so directly tied, or so MULTIPE, that we could say that “Jesus is Historical” not overall. Since whatever originary history there might have been, was still so far from any recognizable later Jesus, that the result its best characterized as fiction or “myth.” In spite of various historical inputs.

        1. And that approach, brettongarcia, is not conducive to any investigation into early christian origins. It is an approach that will keep the JC historicists riding high on their assumptions. The JC of the historicist position will not be overthrown by offering a mixed bag of people, mythis, legends, stories. The counter argument to the historicist JC position will have to be a very specific, detailed and historically demonstrated argument. Nothing else has any hope in hell of debunking the historicists JC phantom.

          1. But if that’s the reality of the situation, if Jesus is actually is nothing more than “a mixed bag of people, mythis, legends, stories”, then what more can you offer?

              1. Hopefully, we can all begin to explore likely mythic sources in more and more detail. Still? The fact is that Mythography is the field we begin to use … when there are no real historical facts.

                So that? We should all keep looking for more and more solid ties to myths. Though for many of us, the best attack on Historicism, is not to indicate the solidity of myth; a paradoxical situation. But to simply … attack Historicism; keep noting its OWN lack of solid evidence.

                To be sure, arguing for lack of evidence, uncertainty, against those who promise Certainty, is hard. Unless you remind them that so many of the things they thought were “certain” about Jesus, have been rejected, even by the historicists. Unless you teach the virtue of … not certainty, but say “openness.”

                It may be that the enemy is – the egotistic allure of “certainty.” But if so? Maybe another answer, is just to preach the virtue of Humility; especially … “epistemological humility.” To teach that in an infinitely complex universe, it is sheer vanity to be too certain, about anything whatsoever.

                In the meantime? We need to be open to the very strong likelyhood that not just one or two, but DOZENS of myths inputted into the Jesus Legend.

                Though we listen with interest to defences of this or that single figure, it seems likely that finally, there is no single figure at all behind it all.

        2. Very true. Much like the film “The Wrestler”. The main character (Randy “The Ram”), and his story, are based largely and several real wrestlers who have, and still do, historically exist. Some of the ones I was reminded of were Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Tony Atlas, Terry Funk, Mick Foley, and hell, given events over the last few years, even Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan. But we can’t point to any single one of these real people and say accurately say “that guy right there, THAT is the HISTORICAL Randy ‘The Ram’!” He really is just a work of fiction in the end. An amalgamation of so many various independent sources of influence, be they historical or mythical, makes it seemingly impossible to attribute to the character a historical identity.
          This reminds me of the old Looney Tunes cartoons that feature the big orange furry monster wearing sneakers, and when Bugs Bunny tires to shave of the fluff of hair to get to the real monster underneath, he found himself continuing to shave more and more until nothing was left but a pile of hair and a pair of sneakers.

          Or as Gerald Massey once put it:
          “a composite likeness of twenty different persons merged in one that is not anybody.”

  3. Why is this book $110?

    Why is anybody helping that punk Rook Hawkins/Tom Vern? He’s done absolutely nothing. Not long ago he used to claim on his blog that he was an “ancient text expert and historian” with only a high school diploma and claims Richard Carrier is his “hero”

    Rook’s book ‘Of Men and Muses’ was a failure – I’ve never seen a single person even mention it let alone quote from it. It ranks over 3 million on Amazon.

    I’ve always wondered why people like Carrier, Price and now Dr. Thompson help him at all. If he’s an “up & comer’ that turns into anything at all it’s not because he actually earned it – it’s always been given to him for reasons I’ve yet to understand. I’ll never trust Rook Hawkins/Tom Vern and will never read or buy any book with his name on it. He’s not a scholar he’s a scholar wannabe and never will be a scholar without hand-holding from others to carry him.

    1. I have little time for Tom as one who has a history of falsely denigrating the works of others without (on his own admission) even having read them and for choosing to publish only what he can use to harm me while denying me right of reply. So I must struggle also with this book. But I have attempted to approach it professionally and to leave aside personal animosities.

  4. Note first (with Arthur Drews and Rene Salm) that Jesus is returning to “his own country”, which is not named Nazareth, and neither is it by Matthew. Only Luke introduces the name of Nazareth, and again a possible interpolation is suspected.

    One has to admire the dramatic sense of Mark. Like a good director, he knows what the worshippers in the synagogue feel, he knows what they are whispering to each other, without wasting any word. And then he uses the audience to let them identify Jesus, and name his family: “Is this not the carpenter?”, what a great line!
    Of course, Mark also knows the family’s intimate thoughts, as he knows everybody’s thoughts and feelings, all the time. The action moves fast, and the dramatic feeling is sustained. This is a masterpiece.

  5. On a scholarly note, this is the presentation by Publisher Equinox:

    Description
    The historicity of Jesus is now widely accepted and hardly questioned by most scholars. But this assumption disarms biblical texts of much of their power by privileging an historical interpretation which effectively sweeps aside much theological speculation and allusion. Furthermore, the assumption of historicity gathers further assumptions to it, shaping the interpretation of texts, both denying and adding subtext. Scholars are now faced with an endless array of works on the historical Jesus and few question what has been lost through this wide-spread assumption of historicity. Is This Not the Carpenter? presents a very valuable corrective: a literary rereading of the New Testament.

    Contents
    Introduction: Thomas L. Thompson and Thomas Verenna

    Into the Well of Historical Jesus Scholarship
    1. Jim West (Quartz Hill School of Theology) – A Very, Very Short Introduction to Minimalism
    2. Roland Boer (University of Newcastle) – The German Pestilence: Re-assessing Feuerbach, Strauss and Bauer
    3. Lester L. Grabbe (University of Hull) – “Jesus Who is Called Christ”: References to Jesus Outside Christian Sources
    4. Niels Peter Lemche (University of Copenhagen) – The Grand Inquisitor and Christ: Why the Church Doesn’t Want Jesus
    5 Emanuel Pfoh (National University of La Plata) – Jesus and the Mythic Mind: An Epistemological Problem

    Paul and Early Christianity: Historical and Exegetical Investigations
    6 Robert M. Price (Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary) – Does the Christ Myth Theory Require an Early Date for the Pauline Epistles?
    7. Mogens Müller (University of Copenhagen) – Paul: The Oldest Witness to the Historical Jesus
    8. Thomas S. Verenna – Born Under the Law: Intertextuality and the Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus in Paul’s Epistles

    The Rewritten Bible and the Life of Jesus
    9. James Crossley (University of Sheffield) – Can John’s Gospel Really Be Used to Reconstruct a Life of Jesus? An Assessment of Recent Trends and a Defence of a Traditional View
    10. Thomas L. Thompson – Psalm 72 and Mark 1:12-13: Mythic Evocation in Narratives of the Good King
    11. Ingrid Hjelm (University of Copenhagen) “Who is my Neighbor?” Implicit Use of Old Testament Stories and Motifs in Luke’s Gospel
    12. Joshua Sabih (University of Copenhagen) – Born Isa and Baptized Jesus: The Quranic Narratives about Isa
    13. K. L. Noll (Brandon University) – Investigating Earliest Christianity Without Jesus

    1. The publisher blurb is the marketing front. Few of the chapters meet the expectations offered there. That’s not to say some of them aren’t of value for other reasons. But some contributions are quite curious indeed. I’ll be discussing many of them in future posts.

  6. “The message is that the story of Jesus’ rejection by his own people who ironically see in this wonderworker with his hands only a carpenter is itself a parable expressing the age-old message found throughout the Jewish scriptures.”

    This is the heart of the story, those close to Jesus “see” the physical works of the hand of the Carpenter but can not see the spiritual works of the hand of the Carpenter. Those outside can see it. What’s important here from a HJ/MJ standpoint is what is the evidence for Jesus’ profession. There is no quality Source Criticism for Carpenter since Paul is silent here and “Mark” is unknown. We are than reduced to Literary Criticism. “Mark’s” related story tests very high for Fiction with the significant amounts of the Impossible and Contrivance. The key assertion is the Ironic contrast between the Carpenter’s physical and spiritual works of the hand. Which is the more likely starting point, HJ was a carpenter, or MJ was a miracle worker? Since miracle worker is a primary theme and carpenter is only invoked here it is more likely that miracle worker was the starting point and “carpenter” is contrived. To support this, the only subsequent Christian support for “carpenter” is based on “Mark” and subsequent Gospellers exorcised Jesus’ profession.

    This is a major problem for HJ. There is no Source Criticism to prove Jesus’ profession and Literary Criticism indicates “carpenter” is likely fiction. Point Doherty!

    Joseph

  7. I opened this series of reviews wondering about use of “figure” in the title. — The title speaks not of “the question of the historicity of Jesus” but the “question of historicity of the figure of Jesus”. Another glance at a recently neglected corner of my bookshelf reminded me of the title of E. P. Sanders’ 1993 well-known work, “The Historical Figure of Jesus”. Interesting that some theologians take Sanders’ work as establishing what can be supposedly known as bed-rock fact about Jesus. They’re dreaming, of course, and one theologian who challenged me to fault Sanders’ work on the historicity of Jesus never did respond with anything cerebral to my various take ups of his challenge.

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