What a shameful week this has been. Three bloggers, Tom, Dick and Larry, have gone out of their way to heap personal attacks on Joseph Atwill, ostensibly in order to distance themselves from his views. What’s worse is that two of those bloggers have regularly censured the biblical studies and theology establishments for resorting to personal insults upon those who attempt to make a case for the Christ Myth theory — “intellectual bullying”, “verbal intimidation”, “unprofessional”, “shameful”, are said to describe this proclivity.
Clearly the abusive personal insults they have flung at Joe Atwill indicate these bloggers have no interest in winning over anyone sympathetic to Joe. So why do they do it? I can imagine two possible reasons:
- They want to prove to the establishment of respectable scholarly elites that they should not be associated with the ideas of Joe Atwill. That is, they kick Joe to be assured of the approval of those they personally want to impress or from whom they personally want respect; or/and
- They are desperate to bully or intimidate a wider audience from even being tempted to give serious consideration to the views of Joe Atwill.
None of this personal abuse is necessary. It only makes the perpetrators look as sick as the academic hypocrites they criticize for spewing the same types of ad homina against them.
This is comes with the free-speech we enjoy, but the original idea behind the ideal of free speech was that the best or truest ideas would eventually rise to the top as everyone had an opportunity to hear the arguments for and against them all. Our innate reasonableness would lead to the most reasonable ideas winning out in the end. But we can now see that Tom, Dick and Larry are just as prone to resorting to intellectual intimidation as those they criticize. Intellectual bullying was not the way a free speech society was meant to work.
But what if someone really is bonkers?
I think the Atlantis theory is bonkers. But if I were addressing someone who believed it I would not insult them by saying they were bonkers. If I felt it worth the effort I would argue the case just as soundly as I would expect an evolutionary biologist or palaeontologist to argue against Creationism with a fundamentalist. In fact, it was indeed because I discovered that someone I considered a friend did believe in the Atlantis myth (and a few other oddities besides) that I did take the time to do a bit of homework and make a serious effort to present a reasoned and evidence-based case against those ideas. One of them I eventually posted here. I don’t believe any of that effort was wasted. What would have been wasted would have been any energy expended in calling my friend a crackpot.
There is a place for certain kinds of language and expression. I do not speak at work planning meetings the same way or with the same language I use after work with friends over a few beers. I do not write policy or information sharing documents for work in the same language I use when expressing personal work frustrations with a trusted colleague. We have evolved to be social beings and we need to refine and maximize our social skills to the utmost if we want to achieve the best possible outcomes in the wider social context.
Now I think a number of readers here know I do not agree with the views of Acharya S. (D.M. Murdock). I have attempted to argue against her views and those of Robert Tulip on this blog. At no time did I utter a personal insult against either. Nor did I provocatively call their views “cow scat”. I did attempt to strictly address specific claims, words used, arguments made — and for my pains I was slandered like nobody’s business on the discussion forum of Acharya S. One does not argue against her or her followers in public and get away with it. I soon lost interest in continuing to argue my reasons for rejecting her thesis. I guess I let her win. She proved that personal insult and abuse can silence critics. Maybe I should continue.
There is much more to be said here (and yes, those in positions of power and responsibility should be held to higher standards than others), but I’ll save a more detailed discussion of the state of much of academia for another post.
Back to these “Let’s kick Joe Atwill” types.
Tom’s scatalogical critique
The first of these personal attacks came from Tom. He calls Atwill’s documentary (“what you are watching”) “golden cow scat”. He critiques the entire film before he has seen it (he only concedes that Joe Atwill has “apparently” made a documentary film) entirely from the blurb itself. Any blurb is, by definition, an attempt to persuade you to read or view the contents by suggesting they are something new and different. The blurb is not the argument itself. But that doesn’t stop Tom from writing an entire critique of what he calls the blurb.
If you are planning to go see this movie, please, bring a disposable bag so you can properly rid yourself of the dung that undoubtedly will be thrown at you during the presentation.
Now that’s a profound intellectual argument!
The personal character and mind-reading attacks continue:
Atwill clearly has no grasp of these concepts, probably because he didn’t bother reading anything related to this despite his self-acclaimed ‘bookish-ness’.
Like all sensationalist crap-dealers, Mr. Atwill claims to have discovered the secret, super-dooper, hidden code in the text. Amazing! I (sic) self-proclaimed “Biblical scholar”, with nor formal training in the material, has used his magic decoder ring and stumbled upon a code! How clever of him.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, which Mr. Atwill seems to think he knows so well. . .
It is just so beyond absurd. It really is.
Here is the thing. It may be that Mr. Atwill is completely clueless about this. Maybe he isn’t just trying to scam everyone and sell a bunch of books to a group of gullible people. Maybe he legitimately hasn’t read anything relevant on this subject or any recent scholarship on it.
And then we glimpse that shameful Freudian slip beneath the skirt. Joe Atwill’s real sin is that he is “not one of us establishment intellectual elites!” He is an outsider! Shock, horror, ultimate scandal — he even uses the “Popular Media”! If anyone takes him instead of us seriously they are nothing but a gullible, ignorant rabble. Whoever takes us seriously is wise and virtuous! You can tell the difference between us. We have the power to kick him and keep him locked outside behind the gates of character attacks and personal insults.
[Atwill is] not using ‘Greco-Roman’ correctly. [Don’t explain to the popular reader why Atwill’s use is incorrect. That only adds to the aura of intellectual superiority of the critical reviewer.]
He makes claims but doesn’t seem to realize how ridiculous they actually are; it is that scholars find his work “outlandish”. . . . I mean it is still crazy talk. . . [DO scholars really find “his work” outlandish? Tom finds the blurb to his documentary film outlandish. Have any scholars actually read his “work” and critiqued it? Or do they just scoff at the conclusions because they are so incompatible with anything they have studied.]
Steven Mason, a real scholar, . . . .
The difference between what these scholars have written and what Mr Atwill have (sic) written is threefold:
(a) all of them have academic training in Greek,
(b) all of them published through an academic press . . .
(c) None of them make the illogical leap that similarities between Josephus (a Jew) and the Gospels (written by Jewish authors) mean that the Romans did it.
[Note that 2 out of 3 differences are that Atwill is “not one of us”. The third is no doubt an unscholarly oversimplification.]
Despite Atwill’s unlearned claim that the Jewish people were expecting a ‘Warrior messiah’. . . . [Of course. Keep looking for mud. Never mind that one will read this misinformed claim in “Oh-how-many” scholarly works!]
He may sincerely believe he has discovered the secret code off a cereal box with his 3-D glasses he found inside; that doesn’t make him an expert in the subject. [Of course. His view is not our view. That is, he is not an expert like us!]
Mr. Atwill is just like all other amateur-Scholar-wannabes who refuse to put in the time and effort to earn a degree in the field who want to advance their pet theories to sell books and dupe you over. [I like the way “Scholar” is capitalized. We Scholars are superior in character because we are prepared to put in effort and time to earn degrees. Others are charlatans out to make money and dupe you poor ignorant peasant rabble who read their work.]
He relies on popular media and the ignorance of the layperson to score points rather than publishing in a credible academic journal or publishing academically. He knows he can’t do that, because he has no clue how academics work, how they think, or what they actually argue on the subject. [Tom knows all of this about Atwill? He must know him personally. But note that the main message here is that academics are a superior elite class and Atwill is not a member. Now I do accept that people who work in universities are the brightest and most learned of our populations. That’s why they are there. But when someone aspiring to be a capital S Scholar starts treating outsiders like this then he has lost my respect. I’m with Tim Minchin’s points #3 and #8 on this:
Is it even worth the effort to look at arguments that do not go any deeper than the blurb? What’s the point? We know the blurb is not Atwill’s argument. But once someone who goes out of his way to write personal abuse against Atwill for daring to engage the public in a topic from a perspective that is not “intellectually respectable”, one needs very, very sound arguments by the time one gets around to the real subject matter. Or maybe not. If you are trying to convince the “gullible public” you certainly do. But if you think of the public as gullible you probably don’t care about what they think and are only attacking Atwill to attract the respect of those whose respect is important to you.
“Please, you venerable Scholars whose esteem I crave, don’t think my sympathetic noises towards mythicism are anything like Atwill’s! Here! Watch me kick Atwill and his gullible followers to death!”
So what is the point of drawing attention to Tom’s own errors and fallacies in his rebuttal to Atwill. I draw attention to a few more in addition to ones I have alluded to above:
No, it is not true that the Pax Romana was disturbed by Jews on only two occasions, as Tom writes.
Simply proclaiming that “most leading Sumerologists” consider Gilgamesh to have been an historical person is as much an argument from authority as the claim that “most Scholars believe Jesus was an historical person” — a fallacy that Tom otherwise refuses to countenance!
And “incredulous” does not mean what Tom thinks it means — poor form given that Tom used the “You keep using that word . . . I do not think it means what you think it means” clip to mock Atwill. Tom, read this: incredible/incredulous.
Tom writes that the Dead Sea Scrolls “were not all written in the first century, but spread out over many”. as if that is enough to demolish the blurb’s assertion that the Dead Sea Scrolls paint a different picture of first century Galilee from the one we find in the Gospels. Tom’s point completely misses Joe Atwill’s (if the blurb is representing it accurately) point that the DSS paint a different picture of Galilee BEFORE the Jewish War from the one portrayed in the Gospels. But Tom is incensed. So detail and accuracy easily slip by him.
Finally, the piece that Tom is critiquing is clearly written by someone other than Atwill. It is piece about Atwill and his views. Yet Tom regularly accuses Atwill himself of making the claims in that article.
After Tom Richard Carrier posted “Atwill’s Cranked-up Jesus”
This was a better work in that Carrier dedicated most of it to a serious and more logical and factual rebuttal of Atwill’s arguments. Yet he simultaneously advises readers that “Thomas Verenna has . . . written a deconstruction of” the article above.
But still we have the appeal to authority up front and in the vanguard. And Carrier is open about his motivation. He does not want anyone in the world of academia (his primary audience) to think his views are comparable to Atwill’s. So the boots kick in hard.
Joseph Atwill is one of those crank mythers I often get conflated with. Mythicists like him make the job of serious scholars (at least we don’t get the capital S with Richard) like me so much harder. . . . They make mythicism look ridiculous. . . . [U]nlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have a Ph. D. in a relevant subject from a real university.
So this is the future if mythicism becomes the dominant thesis in the academy? Scholars will continue to personally denigrate lay outsiders who do not submit to their frameworks and appeal to their authority like this? Evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, as I said above, do not seem to find this sort of approach necessary when they explain evolution to the public. You’d expect Bible scholars to be closer to a moral ethic, but they sound more like the rebel sons and daughters of preachers who strain to be badder than the rest.
The boot keeps kicking.
I think Atwill is a total crank.
Atwill is simply the latest iteration (or almost — there is a bonkers Rabbi still going around with an even wilder version) . . .
his theory . . . a hill of bullshit
in crank land
a frustrating delusional fanatic
He . . . has no relevant academic degree that I am aware of.
sick of his bullshit
But if anyone else starts kicking in the other direction then they will not be tolerated. After inviting readers to discuss Atwill Carrier writes:
I will be enforcing my usual comments policy extremely strictly here. . . The more so if you direct any abuse at anyone here. You can bitch all you want elsewhere.
Hoo boy! Yup. This is open season on attacking Atwill. The message here appears to be that calling anyone except Atwill a total crank or a crank myther or delusional fanatic will not be tolerated!
All of this is unfortunate since Carrier shows he is more than capable of addressing and burying Atwill’s arguments without any personal insult.
I even learned something from Carrier’s criticism. I have always wanted to read Bauer’s Christ and the Caesars (and now it appears it will soon be available online in English) so I was surprised to read that Atwill’s theory has a history that can be traced back to Bruno Bauer. I find it difficult to imagine Bauer concocting a similar theory as Atwill’s so I am all the more keen to read Bauer for myself.
Reading Carrier’s article did lead me to sympathize with him. I can understand why he would come to be frustrated personally by Atwill in personal correspondence. A small handful of authors have over the years contacted me to ask for my feedback on a book they have written. I am very reluctant to respond at all now given my past experiences. Too often I have found the author to be really expecting endorsement of their ideas. When I attempt to honestly express what I see as logical, methodological or even factual shortcomings the response has too often eventually degenerated into personal insult. I guess by the time they have written a book they are no longer interested in learning anything new. Their goal is to have their book accepted.
So when Carrier writes the following, I am reminded that I have found the same could be said of a few others who have attempted to engage my support for their work:
Everything confirms his thesis, because nothing could ever fail to. Classic nonfalsifiability. He just cherry picks and interprets anything to fit, any way he wants.
Carrier is on still stronger ground when he points to the simpler alternative explanations for some of the “quandaries” Atwill is attempting to address.
In contrast, the links between the context of this myth in Josephus and the OT are much clearer and more obvious, and require no knowledge of Jesus or Christianity . . . .
Carrier posts correspondence between him and Atwill that looks so familiar to me. It all follows the same pattern I have experienced when engaging with an author who wants me to agree with his book’s thesis. Carrier’s conclusion is valid:
[A]twill has no valid method, he ignores alternative explanations of the evidence, and he invents anything he needs to force the evidence to fit his theory. And then when he is refuted, he claims he has been victorious.
That’s fine and all that needs to be said in a public venue. Carrier’s addition of a personal insult adds nothing positive to the discussion or the wider public interest. It may help sympathetic readers feel smugly superior, however, when all they really need is to understand why some theories are valid and others are not.
Larry Hurtado and flimflam of the month
Larry’s contribution to Kick Joe Atwill week was to use “flimflam” in place of “bullshit” and “crap”. Surprisingly Hurtado admits he does not know of Bruno Bauer’s ideas. I guess that just reinforces the problem that certain ideas have never been rebutted, just ignored.
And Larry can safely ignore Atwill. He doesn’t even have to bother addressing any of his arguments. Just ignore the outsider. Atwill’s big sin is that he is not a member of the intellectual elite and he appeals to the public. But he does add one new insight. He simply makes up something and gratuitously attributes it to Atwill.
And when asked why scholars don’t accept it, you respond (yup, you guessed it) “It’s an academic conspiracy to keep these things from the public.” Sigh!
Why do scholars who otherwise pride themselves on knowing the evidence and sticking to “the facts” simply make up stuff about people they don’t like?
And, no, I haven’t heard of the guy before either (Joseph Atwill), largely because, well, he’s a nobody in the field of biblical studies. No PhD in the subject (or related subject), never held an academic post, never (so far as I can tell) published anything in any reputable journal that’s peer-reviewed, or in any reputable monograph series, or presented at any academic conference where competent people could assess his claims. Instead, per the flimflam drill, he directs his claims to the general public, knowing that they are unable to assess them, and so, by sheer novelty of the claim he hopes to attract a crowd, sales, and publicity. It’s a living, I guess (of sorts).
So, again, for those who care, it’s wise to consider who is making the claims when you hear them made. Atwill knows he can’t get to first base on his crazy claims with anyone competent in the field. So, he “goes public”, i.e., dodges the scholarly process by which ideas are tested and challenged before being accepted. But he’ll probably get a TV programme out of it. It seems actually to help to propose something kind of weird like this.
Time for a few capital S Scholars to sit at the feet of Tim Minchin and learn a few fundamental lessons they seem to have forgotten along their way.
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