More SBL Fallout from René Salm’s paper

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by Neil Godfrey

Slightly revised R.S's. parenthesis [That's illogical . . . facts unfettered], 6:00 am, 4th December, 2012

NOTE: See Rene’s comment #5  below, titled “Clarification by Dr Avalos” for corrections to some of the detail in this post: 

René Salm has posted the following:

I discovered Ehrman’s blog yesterday (http://ehrmanblog.org/rene-salm-at-the-society-of-biblical-literature-meeting/) and found that he and his readers are “outraged” at my being invited to SBL. He writes the following (my comments and emphases added):


Rene Salm at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting

Several people have sent me private emails asking why René Salm was put on the program at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting, given the fact that he is not a scholar and has no credentials in the field [Credentials are evidently indispensable evidence of scholarship. . .–RS].   For those of you who don’t know, Salm has written a book claiming that Nazareth did not exist in the first century, so that Jesus couldn’t be there.  He argues this in part because he doesn’t think Jesus existed and so wants to discredit the Gospel stories by saying the Christian authors made the whole thing up.  [The Nazareth myth stands on its own. Second guesses on why I wrote the book are irrelevant and often wrong.]

Several scholars (well, everyone who mentioned it to me) were outraged that Salm was allowed to be on the program.  This meeting is of a learned society and is to be for scholars with established expertise.  It is not to be a venue for people without qualifications to spout their wild theories.  Salm claims that those who oppose him have a theological or religious bias against his views, but this simply is not true.  EVERYONE who is an expert opposes his views – Jewish, Christian, agnostic, or other.   There is not a single archaeologist of ancient Israel that gives him the least credit.  [That’s because they know on which side their bread is buttered.] That doesn’t make him wrong.  But it does mean that if he wants to argue that every real scholar is in error, he should get some credentials first. [That’s illogical. Because all the credentialed archaeologists have thus far been wrong, therefore I also should get credentials? Presumably in archaeology? Everybody is entitled to an opinion, both the credentialed and the non-credentialed. The difference is that the credentialed academic has one hand on the facts and one hand on a paycheck, while the non-credentialed layperson is free to pursue the facts unfettered.]
In any event, I thought it might be worthwhile to reprint here what I say about Salm’s book in my book Did Jesus Exist? Apologies for those who have read this already. I have removed the footnotes here, but you can find them in the original. . .


This was followed by Ehrman’s “part 2” on me and the SBL. I don’t feel comfortable paying money to his blog and voicing my opinion there, and may simply react on my own MP blog. Of course, my lack of pertinent credentials is a pretext. The tradition would surely be just as opposed to me if I actually had a PhD. My goodness, I think it would be even more upset!

Another curiosity: Ehrman is himself  a member of the SBL “Metacriticism of Biblical Studies” unit. [Rene Salm has since corrected this — see Comment #5 below] He’s known about my upcoming talk for a long time, as Avalos hashed out the SBL roster of presentations via emails to the whole list (about two dozen members) over the last twelve months. It’s curious to me that Ehrman did not say something when it could have made a difference, but waited until after the fact to voice his displeasure and to raise the issue of some SBL impropriety.

FYI, here are the members of the Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship section from their email addresses:

R. Raphael
kenneth atkinson
alex botta
kurt noll
f. fzindler
thomas thompson
Philippe Wajdenbaum
bart ehrman
robert price
Willi Braun
rene salm
c martin
elliott still
b c landau

The Metacriticism section is not a fully formed “unit” but is in its first year of trial status by SBL. [Rene Salm has since corrected this — see Comment #5 below] Complaints from scholars of Ehrman’s stature could well scuttle this auspicious but fledgling ship. . . I plan to contact Avalos on this shortly. [See comment #5 below for corrections made since that contact with Dr Avalos.]

If I’m banned for lack of credentials it means little to me, as I have no plans to speak there again. But I think the whole SBL would have to formulate a new policy because right now any member (credentialed or not) can give a paper as along as s/he’s invited by a “program unit.” Nevertheless, this is a discussion that needs to happen. Scholars should ask themselves why a lot of good work is currently being done outside the guild (Price, Doherty, Zindler, myself, etc.) and a lot of bad work inside of it.


I wonder if Ehrman has actually read Rene’s paper or even his book that he attacked in his Did Jesus Exist? It does look like he didn’t read his emails from Hector Avalos prior to SBL alerting him then to Salm’s paper to be presented there. It really does look like people such as Ehrman and McGrath have absolutely no interest in addressing the contents of Salm’s paper or the sources on which it is based.


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19 thoughts on “More SBL Fallout from René Salm’s paper”

  1. Well what Ehrman did is just typical of a large proportion of Jesus Historicists, especially in the United States: they bully people, with argumentum ad authoritarionem and ad hominem attacks. If everybody’s not on board in full agreement with a NT Jesus that actually existed, and grew up in a named village called Nazareth in the Galilee, and was some kind of teacher / apocalyptic prophet / messianic agitator, and was crucified in the traditional manner (nailed to a simple two-beam cross), they attack those who aren’t. Viciously.

    1. Does this not have to do with the present generation of scholars lack of education? And of course bad manners? They are so afraid of people that they will not engage in any discussion but try to bully their oponents. It has been going on in OT studies for a couple of generations, and seems even worse now in NT studies. Happily to be an European and not part of this discourse!

      1. You are lucky over there, for your scholars get to come up with innovations in knowledge about Christian origins and Roman execution practices. Here, we seem to be stuck in the same hypotheses I heard about back in the early 1980s with very little change. And most scholars here think the gospels are eyewitness sources or, like Ehrman, derived from them.

  2. Ehrman says: “[Salm] doesn’t think Jesus existed and so wants to discredit the Gospel stories by saying the Christian authors made the whole thing up.”

    This from a once-critical scholar who has spent hours and hours in debates with conservatives discrediting the Gospel stories by pointing out how contradictory, implausible and unreliable they are. Besides, I doubt Ehrman actually thinks Jesus actually came from Nazareth, so why does he care so much what Salm has to say about it?

  3. ‘ It is not to be a venue for people without qualifications to spout their wild theories.’

    No, it is be a venue for people *with* qualifications to spout their wild theories.

    Theories like , Jesus must have existed because stories of him raising people from the dead have some words in Aramaic….

  4. Clarification by Dr. Avalos:

    Hector Avalos contacted me today and writes: “Your presence [at the SBL] was necessary to challenge the current paradigms.” I appreciate his words, and thank Hector for having had the courage to invite me in the first place, as well as for having largely organized the forward looking SBL Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship unit in which some very provocative papers were presented in 2012. We all owe Dr. Avalos our appreciation.

    I’ve only been an SBL member for one year and so the terminology of this large organization is new to me. I was incorrect in my post yesterday that “The Metacriticism section is not a fully formed ‘unit’ but is in its first year of trial status by SBL.” Hector writes that the Metacriticism of BIblical Scholarship unit “has received as full a unit status as is given to any other unit. We are now as official as any other unit in the SBL.” I’m very heartened to hear this and also apologize for the misleading information. I saw the brand new unit described in the SBL program book as a “consultation” and (falsely) inferred “trial status.” Hector explains that “consultation” is a technical term within the SBL for one of three kinds of units. . .

    He also pointed out that the unit does not have “members” other than its steering committee. Bart Ehrman has never been on the steering committee, and the list of names that I posted (and that Neil Godfrey reposted above) is a list of interested scholars. Nevertheless, my point was that emails apprized Ehrman and others of my upcoming talk long before the SBL meeting itself.–Rene Salm

  5. I am not sure my comment went in the first time.
    Would it matter if poor peasant dwellings were built without foundation (as the ones found in Capernaum) and their stones reused later (after 70 CE) for better houses? What would be left for archeologists to find?

    1. So what is the material evidence for the existence of Nazareth as an inhabited village at the time of Jesus? All your point does is explain why we have no evidence. This is the problem with the astrotheologians. Every time I pressed them for evidence they replied with explanations of why we have none.

      And if foundationless dwellings were found at Capernaum then how do you explain not finding similar evidence at the hillside Nazareth if you are arguing for a similar process?

      And if the place was so poor and destitute as to not even leave the remains of a dwelling, then how did a carpenter or stone-mason (or however you translate the word) make a living? And how did Jesus ever acquire his literacy? (And, while we are at it, from what precipice did his people attempt to throw him; and from what synagogue did they drag him — such a place so poor supported a synagogue?) These are serious questions that need to be addressed by anyone who believes the Bible should be used as the infallible guide to interpreting what they find in the ground.

      1. Maybe, it cannot be any material evidence for a village in Jesus’s days. That’s why I tried to say.

        For your second question, I can argue Nazareth was to become a town, then a city, and greatly expanded into modern times. That would caused destruction of basic shelters with no foundation with reuse of all the stones later. As for Capernaum, the town expanded slowly but then, during the arab occupation, went abandoned. The whole became ruins and then covered with dirt. No new city was built on top of it, so some of the stones, at least the lower ones of wall remained and got buried.

        For your third question, a wood worker could make a living here and sell his stuff (such as beams and planks) in Jaffa, less than two miles down the road. Furthermore, Nazareth was likely surrounded by forest (now it is a human jungle), providing a good supply of wood.

        I am certain Jesus was not literate (obviously you did not read my website).

        I consider Lukan fiction the story about the cliff and the synagogue (a place of meeting, religious or otherwise) could have been no more than a barn-like structure.

        BTW, I do not think the bible is infallible. I criticize the NT (and the OT) a lot on my website.

        Cordially, Bernard

        1. The point Ehrman (and you also) have missed about the inability of archaeologists to find “material evidence” for Nazareth in Jesus’ day is that archaeologists necessarily rely upon the evidence of the surrounding regions and not on what lies beneath the buildings of present-day Nazareth. This is where the evidence comes from for the settlement for the past 4000 years. Tombs are not placed within the habitable areas. The evidence surrounding the valley basin indicates what was probably most likely going on in the valley basin where the modern village sits. But most archaeologists insist that Nazareth in Jesus’ day must have been on the hillside and not in that basin area because that’s where the Bible situates it — all based on the story of Jesus being taken to the cliff edge.

          We do have evidence for the settlement of Nazareth from the later part of the first century without digging up houses in the urban area there today. Alexandre even claims to have even found a house on the hillside from the days of Jesus. But if you are saying that there is no evidence for the Gospels’ Nazareth then you are supporting the case being made by Salm. Salm is showing that the scholarly record testifies to settlement at various times as well as to being deserted at other long stretches of time.

          1. I understand the points of Salm, but I won’t say Nazareth is proven not to have existed (as a small village) in the 1st century before 70 CE. Yes we do not have secure archeological evidence proving its existence at that time. Yes, archeologists are/were assuming too much about when tombs and other man-made structures were built. They are/were biased.
            About tombs, I know Jews would not built above them, but I do not see why they could not do it besides them. Where is the evidence to show otherwise?
            Modern village? Nazareth is now a sprawling city, covering the basin, and the hills around up to the top, and sometimes overflowing on the other side of the main ridge to the North.
            I am very curious about how you can be so sure Nazareth existed at the end of the 1st century.
            Cordially, Bernard

            1. So we are agreed that there is no evidence for an inhabited village of Nazareth in the early first century. If you understand Salm’s points then you also understand the evidence for the existence of Nazareth from towards the latter part of the first century on.

            2. BM: I understand the points of Salm, but I won’t say Nazareth is proven not to have existed (as a small village) in the 1st century before 70 CE.

              RS: This is the familiar double negative used by a defensive tradition, i.e.: mythicists have *not* proven that Nazareth was *not* there. Such an argument exists only because there is no positive argument (from the evidence). It is an argument from silence (for there is no evidence of a village before 70 CE). I discuss this at MoN 288 f.

              BM: About tombs, I know Jews would not built above them, but I do not see why they could not do it besides them. Where is the evidence to show otherwise?

              RS: This is elementary and you should know. It’s in the Talmud. Midrash Baba Bathra 2:9 specifies a minimum distance of habitations (“50 ells” or 25 yards) from any tomb. (See MoN 219 f.) Torah passages are emphatic that even contact with the dead was a source of impurity (Lev. 5:3; Num 5:1-3; 19:11 etc). Religious Jews refused to settle Tiberias in Roman times, for example, because at one time a cemetery was there.

              BM: I am very curious about how you can be so sure Nazareth existed at the end of the 1st century.

              RS: “The Myth of Nazareth” *explains* precisely how one “can be so sure.” So, evidently you haven’t read the book. That in turn tells me that maybe you are not so curious as you declare. What are you waiting for? If you read the book you will get beyond the elementary level when it comes to Nazareth.

              1. Hello Rene,
                1) The absence of archeological evidence in order to confirm the existence of village/town/city is not the proof of no existence. Case in point: shall we declare Akkad not to have existed?
                2) No contest
                3) I asked the question to Neil, not to you. But I found that in http://www.nazarethmyth.info/ :
                “Furthermore, this study shows that there was a long hiatus in settlement in the Nazareth basin between the Late Iron Age (c. 700 BCE) and Middle Roman times (c. 100 CE).”
                I do not know if it was written by you, or at least, approved by you.

                Finally, I want to say you made good points in your book (as gathered from comments about it and your SBL paper), and exposed “old boy” thinking about biased scholars & archeologists, but that does not disprove the existence of Nazareth in the 1st century prior to 70 CE.

                Cordially Bernard

              2. All comments and questions here are public and anyone is entitled (encouraged) to respond. I do not always respond myself and appreciate it when others, especially those more knowledgeable than I, chime in. But I don’t understand your persistence in questions about proving the nonexistence of things. This is completely missing the point, let alone the things that have already been explained. As for your # 3, what exactly is your point? Should c. 700 BCE be written as 718 bce, 3rd day of Tishri, 6 pm?

              3. And as for your “case in point, Akkad” example, you clearly have not been curious enough to investigate the fundamentals surrounding the questios in the first place but come across like someone who sits back making cheap-shots that only show one’s ignorance of the issues. Even Ehrman knew better than to pull out Akkad’s unknown locality as relevant to anything.

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