‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ — A (Very, Very) Strange History of Minimalism

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by Neil Godfrey

The opening chapter of Is This Not the Carpenter? is “A (Very, Very) Short History of Minimalism: From the Chronicler to the Present” by Jim West of the unaccredited Quartz Hill School of Theology (West has said he believes accreditation is “a scheme and a scam”) that is a “ministry” arm of the Quartz Hill Community Church.

When I first read Jim West’s article online in 2010 (before it was edited as part of Is This Not the Carpenter?) I was very surprised indeed. I responded with a blog post, The Refreshing Honesty of Jim West. Here is a section of his article/chapter that I quoted then:

Most “histories” of Ancient Israel and Earliest Christianity are simply examples of circular reasoning. Many historians use the Bible as a historical source; they reconstruct a history which is often nothing more than a recapitulation of the biblical telling; and the Bible is affirmed as historical because of the history so constructed. Similarly, the life of Jesus, for instance, is gleaned from a reading of the Gospels. Said reconstruction is named a ‘history of Jesus’ life.” That “history of Jesus’ life” is then utilized to prove historically the life of Jesus as described in the Gospels. One need only pick up John Bright’s “History of Israel” or Joseph Ratzinger’s “Jesus” to see circularity in action. True, ancillary materials are added to these histories (on the very rare occasions that they are available) – but these only reinforce the circularly circumscribed reconstruction.

As I mentioned in my initial response, Jim West has distorted the meaning of “minimalism” to sustain the conceit throughout his article/chapter. Minimalism is not, primarily, a denial of the value of texts for historical information. They certainly are valuable as historical sources. The question is what the “hard evidence” of archaeological finds and external controls can inform us about the nature and value of the texts as historical sources. Are their narratives true accounts of what happened or are they creative literature that is best explained as the ideology (or theology) of a people, time and place that can only be pinpointed with the aid of other sources external to those narratives?

Jim West’s point is that the authors of our biblical texts were not interested in historical reconstruction or recording. To illustrate, he points to the author of 1 Chronicles changing 2 Samuel’s account of God (Yahweh) causing David to take a census of Israel into Satan being David’s motivator. The author, we thus can see, was doing theology, not history. Continue reading “‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ — A (Very, Very) Strange History of Minimalism”

31. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 31 (Scholarly Reconstructions of HJ)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Earl Doherty


Scholarly Reconstructions of the Historical Jesus



  • Consensus scholarly views of the historical Jesus
    • The tyranny of the Gospels
    • What Q does not tell us about an historical Jesus
    • How New Testament scholarship operates
  • Conflicting scholarly views about who and what Jesus was
  • Finding Jesus in the Q prophets
    • An argument for the existence of Q
  • Not finding an historical Jesus in the epistles’ Christ
  • Ehrman’s criteria for the genuine words and deeds of Jesus


* * * * *

Finding the Jesus of History

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 267-296)


What scholars claim to know about the historical Jesus

Here is Ehrman’s summation of what critical scholarship in general believes about the historical Jesus:

[T]here are a number of important facts about the life of Jesus that virtually all critical scholars agree on, for reasons that have in part been shown and that in other ways will become increasingly clear throughout the course of this chapter and the next. Everyone, except the mythicists, of course, agrees that

  • Jesus was a Jew who came from northern Palestine (Nazareth)
  • and lived as an adult in the 20s of the Common Era.
  • He was at one point of his life a follower of John the Baptist
  • and then became a preacher and teacher to the Jews in the rural areas of Galilee.
  • He preached a message about the “kingdom of God”
  • and did so by telling parables.
  • He gathered disciples
  • and developed a reputation for being able to heal the sick and cast out demons.
  • At the very end of his life, probably around 30 CE, he made a trip to Jerusalem during a Passover feast
  • and roused opposition among the local Jewish leaders,
  • who arranged to have him put on trial before Pontius Pilate,
  • who ordered him to be crucified for calling himself the king of the Jews. (DJE? p. 269 — my formatting)

This is a prime example of what I have called “the tyranny of the Gospels,” for not a single one of these biographical details is to be found in the non-Gospel record of the first century.

Furthermore, the three later Gospels of our canonical four (along with the satellite Acts) seem entirely dependent on Mark for their basic story of “Jesus of Nazareth.” Critical scholarship is essentially deriving its picture of an historical Jesus from the work of one author, at least several decades after the supposed fact. Continue reading “31. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 31 (Scholarly Reconstructions of HJ)”