2014-09-09

Under the Grip of Christianity: New Testament Scholars and the Myth of Transparent Fiction

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by Tim Widowfield

Engineer's Bench Vise

Engineer’s Bench Vise Source: Wikipedia

Under the Grip

I just noticed over on the Cakemix that Dr. McGrath is once again comparing Jesus mythicism to creationism. He writes:

Mythicism says: universities are so much under the grip of Christianity that mythicism cannot get a fair hearing.

As you know, the good doctor finds this idea laughable. Implicit in his short post is the notion that evolutionary biologists and biblical scholars are serious, trustworthy, trained professionals. Thus, to insist that NT scholars unfairly reject mythicism is to engage in conspiracy mongering. One of his fans (a guy named Jim) chimes in:

Yeah, great point. That’s why I disagree with the current value of the speed of light. It was arrived at by physicists, who are naturally biased because they had … well … advanced degrees in physics. The speed of light should have been determined by a group who is not biased towards physics, like say zoologists. 🙂 Isn’t it weird how science departments are full of faculty that have science backgrounds, and departments focusing on Christian history attract an interest group like people with Christian backgrounds. … (just being a bit of a jerk here 🙂 )

But Dr. Jimmy tells Mr. Jim:

I don’t think you’re being a jerk. I think such snarcasm is called for.

When considering NT scholars, McGrath, of course, isn’t talking about those teaching at universities with a confessional bias.

There certainly are scholars at religiously-affiliated institutions, and I could certainly understand atheists viewing such figures with suspicion and ignoring what they have to say. But people like Ehrman and myself who teach at secular universities do not need to be placed in the same category, do we? And as for having Christian backgrounds, how many professional scientists are from Christian backgrounds, and how many are at least nominally Christians? I am confident that, if such a background does not invalidate the conclusions of mainstream biology, neither does it invalidate the conclusions of mainstream history.

He’s got one thing right: I would never put Ehrman and McGrath in the same category.

Transparent fiction?

Forgery and Counterforgery

Forgery and Counterforgery: A important, groundbreaking work from Bart D. Ehrman

Coincidentally, just yesterday I happened to be reading in Bart Ehrman’s landmark book, Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, about recent biblical scholars who accept the fact that Christian pseudepigrapha exists — even inside the NT itself — but claim that the authors intended no deceit. Ehrman reminds us that Richard Bauckham tried to absolve the forger of 2 Peter, asserting that:

Petrine authorship was intended to be an entirely transparent fiction. (pp. 129-130 — quoting from Bauckham’s commentary, Jude, 2 Peter, p. 134.)

James Dunn similarly fantasizes that early pseudepigraphic authors had no intention of lying to their readers, insisting:

There was no intention to deceive, and almost certainly the final readers were not in fact deceived. (p. 130 — quoting from Dunn’s The Living Word, p. 84)

With wit and precision, Ehrman decisively debunks this recently invented idea of forgers who did not intend to deceive their readers. But the delusion of “honorable forgers” persists and is quite widespread. The myth wilts under even the slightest bit of scrutiny, so we may rightly wonder why it lives on. Ehrman pulls no punches. He writes:

Most of these scholars are experts in religion, and specifically in the New Testament. Their own intentions are in most instances clear: to absolve the authors of ancient forgeries of any guilt involved with lying and deception. (p. 129)

A dirty little secret

Still, how can these experts in religion and the NT be unaware of all the evidence that contradicts their imagined victimless forgery? Ehrman explains:

Even though such views have long been discredited by scholars of ancient forgery, they continue to live on among Neutestamentlers, in part, no doubt, because those in the guild rely on the work of others in the guild, and do not as a rule read widely outside of it, for example in the work of scholars of ancient forgery. And so, for example, we find in a recent introduction to the New Testament by P. Achtemeier, J. Green, and M. Thompson a repetition of the old chestnut: “Pseudonymity appears to have been primarily a literary technique, and not one meant to deliberately deceive its readers.” (p. 129, emphasis mine — quoting Achtemeier, Green, and Thompson’s Introducing the New Testament, Its Literature and Theology, p. 560)

Longtime Vridar readers will recall that we’ve shown repeatedly that most NT scholars clearly don’t read widely outside their expertise, hence the embarrassing mistakes about oral tradition and the unsound foundations of social-scientific criticism. Perhaps even worse, they don’t read the older works by the masters of their field. They don’t read Wellhausen. They don’t read Wrede. They’ve skimmed Bultmann, and they don’t comprehend what little they’ve read. In other words, they do not stand on the shoulders of giants; they merely take in each other’s laundry and pat themselves on the back for doing a fine job of it.

Don’t misunderstand me here. Ehrman would almost certainly not agree with my pessimistic assessment of the rotten state of NT studies. He is instead making a very specific point: that scholars who claim to know about ancient pseudepigraphic writings don’t know what they should know. Moreover, they assert certain “facts” about attitudes in the ancient world concerning forgeries with no supporting evidence. And their reasons for this disquieting behavior are pretty transparent:

Why then have scholars, especially New Testament commentators who have not looked at the broader phenomenon (and who, as a rule, do not cite any evidence), said otherwise? It is hard to escape the characteristically trenchant conclusion drawn by Anthony Grafton: “The only reason to assume that most earlier forgers were more innocent is our own desire to explain away a disquieting feature of the past.” (p. 131, citing Grafton in Forgers and Critics, p. 37)

University conspiracies?

The subject of forgery — especially the intent of the forger — is, arguably, a rather esoteric subject. But note that when scholars offer reasons that an ancient author forged a work in the name of, say, Paul or Peter, they have already admitted what many conservative scholars still deny, viz. that the NT contains forged works. Recall that the well-regarded Luke Timothy Johnson still thinks Paul’s pastoral letters are authentic. Because, well, why not?

The band of acceptable thought in the areas of social studies, politics, history, etc. can be quite narrow. If you stray too far from the norm, you may find yourself labeled as a nutjob. The Overton Window in politics, for example, may drift to the left or right, but its width remains essentially the same, which explains why certain policies in the U.S. that used to be considered within the bounds of normal, polite discussion are now considered “too radical,” and vice versa.

However, the boundaries in biblical studies are unique. In fact, we would be mistaken if we used the word “boundaries,” since the boundary on the right does not exist. Within the guild a scholar can still be considered competent and highly respected even though he or she believes all the books in the NT are authentic and the inspired Word of God. You can watch a debate between a mainline scholar and an evangelical scholar about whether half of Paul’s epistles or all of Paul’s epistles are authentic. But you’ll never hear from a scholar who thinks they’re all late and spurious.

McGrath and his crew would explain that an electrified fence that seals off all “unsafe” ideas on the left simply doesn’t exist. They would argue, simply, that no scholars in academia believe in those extreme, radical, silly ideas. In a way, they’re correct. Self-censorship and self-selection are much more effective (and cheaper) than relying on thought police. The advantage of unwritten rules is that scholars, aspiring scholars, and students internalize them. Of course, nobody argues for those “crazy” things, because anybody who would have done so has already opted out, and anyone remaining who privately thinks that way is smart enough to keep her dangerous thoughts to herself.

Why we might have reason to doubt

If respected NT scholars can twist themselves into believing that the author of 2 Peter didn’t really mean to deceive us or that the first readers of 2 Timothy somehow knew they were reading pious fiction, then we have every reason to doubt whether they will deal in good faith on weightier matters.

Current NT scholarship, hopelessly parochial, embarrassingly ignorant, and disturbingly tolerant of incompetence, does not inspire confidence. Yes, we do trust physicists and biologists. We do believe creationism has had a fair hearing and has been found wanting. On the other hand, with respect to the historicity of Jesus, we’ve seen bad-faith book reviews from McGrath, a poorly written tome by a lazy Bart Ehrman, along with jeers and sneers from the usual suspects.

Is there a conspiracy against mythicism in higher learning? No, because it isn’t necessary. Flies don’t make elaborate plans about swarming on cow dung; they behave that way because of selection. It’s what flies do. Similarly, there’s no sinister, underground network of anti-mythicist scholarly bullies who plot to misrepresent mythicism and accuse its advocates of denying history, hating Christianity, and flirting with anti-Semitism. It’s just what they do.


See also:

34 Comments

  • pete.hoge
    2014-09-10 03:21:24 UTC - 03:21 | Permalink

    Sye ten Bruggencate is known to refuse debating about the Bible itself by saying ” I don’t
    study the Scriptures with non-believers”. I have become aware of a similar policy among
    academic Bible scholars in regards to established models like “minimal facts of Jesus”.

    In my online debates, I am happy to engage in dialogues about what I have learned through
    “acceptable” channels, and sound nexus points like Vridar. My background as a Christian is
    deep enough that I will not back down from any accusation that my authority is not based
    in substantial experience. I am apostate, but I still identify as Christian because flushing it’s
    elements out of my brain is a futile exercise. I think it is more efficient to find a way to rightly
    interpret all those elements, and accept them as my history.

    Academics can ignore me as an amateur, but if they do so on the basis of my qualifications,
    and not my arguments, then I have cause to doubt their application of logic.

    In my worldview, when ideology is wired to primal fears about life and death, then I don’t
    see how bias can be completely avoided. Fanaticism is measured in degrees; reason might
    be a strong attribute among Bible scholars, but their ability to offset bias is directly tied
    to primal fears about the consequences of blasphemy, heresy, or simple criticism of what
    color skin Jesus may have had.

    Primal fear can be wired into the community, tradition, or group which promotes the ideology.
    Shunning is endemic in religious history. If it is not the deity who punishes, then it is fellow
    believer’s who will act as “angels of wrath”.

    So apologists like Bruggencate think they have ownership of Biblical exegesis, but really they
    have no rights in context of actual deductive or inductive logic which are roots of the scientific
    method. Not only are the truth and falsehood of apologetic propositions in question, but the
    soundness of an argument’s premises, inferences, and conclusions are uniformly threatened
    by tendencies to compensate for fear.

    Maybe I should avoid discussing the Bible with believers, academics or otherwise?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2014-09-10 09:43:05 UTC - 09:43 | Permalink

      I remember Dennis MacDonald (author of “Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark”) being confronted with a number of hostile interrogators on a discussion group some years back. He excused himself by saying he was more interested in finding out new things about the Bible than being dragged into the mud with the ignorant. (He didn’t use that mud/ignorant image — that’s mine.) I recently quoted something by Stanislav Andrewski (“Social Sciences As Sorcery”) to the effect that those who are engaged in exploring the seriously new will always be the minority. We’re not alone.

      • pete
        2014-09-11 01:57:01 UTC - 01:57 | Permalink

        We are justified in studying the Bible as literature and not history.

        Scholarship is a pursuit available to most people.

        Especially the humanities.

        Before 1995, most of us went to the library to satisfy our curiosity.

        Today, we have more online knowledge bases than anyone has time
        for. Answers to our questions are available, as are new questions to
        answer.

        Yes…we are not alone. We can learn the proper methods for research,
        and evaluating models. We are many, we are Legion! 😉

        • Scot Griffin
          2014-09-11 05:51:06 UTC - 05:51 | Permalink

          “We are justified in studying the Bible as literature and not history.”

          The Bible is an historical artifact, so we are justified studying the history of the Bible. When was it written/composed/compiled? Who wrote/composed/compiled it? Who sponsored it? All worthwhile questions to be answered.

          • pete
            2014-09-12 04:09:29 UTC - 04:09 | Permalink

            I could have been clearer.

            Instead of “literature and not history”

            “literature in addition to history”.

            Not to mention other disciplines?

            Historical facts are not important to me in context
            of my personal focus on allegorical meaning, and
            how the Bible is a library or anthology with a main
            theme:

            “Mythology of the Anointed Kings”.

            • Scot Griffin
              2014-09-12 06:10:26 UTC - 06:10 | Permalink

              Pete,

              “Historical facts are not important to me in context
              of my personal focus on allegorical meaning, and
              how the Bible is a library or anthology with a main
              theme:

              ‘Mythology of the Anointed Kings’.”

              Interesting.

              I’ve stated a couple of times on Vridar that I believe the mythology of Saul, David and Solomon is based on the actual biographies of Alexander, Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, respectively, which, if correct, pushes the Deuteronomistic History (and the compilation and/or construction of the Primary History as a whole) at least into the late 3rd century BCE and more likely the early 2nd century BCE. For this reason, I generally view the stories of David and Solomon as a Seleucid polemic against the Ptolemaic dynasty (whose every king had a title naming him or her the “beloved” of one Egyptian god or another). For this reason, I have not spent much time considering the allegorical meaning of their mythology. House of David = House of the Beloved = House of Ptolemy (as reinforced by the obvious parallels in David/Ptolemy I and Solomon/Ptolemy II). To me, the books of Samuel and Kings (and the Deuteronomistic History, generally) were most likely intended to sow seeds of doubt among literate Ptolemaic loyalists and secure Seleucid rule over the region after its conquest by Antiochus III circa 200 BCE. For the illiterate masses, the allegorical meaning would have been that even kings are subject to God’s will, and, in that sense, all men are created equal (a radical and dangerous concept at the time), a fact that potentially pushes the composition of Samuel and Kings to later in the second century BCE to a time when the Seleucids’ real enemy was not Egypt but Rome. I say this because the Seleucid empire was really a collection of client kingdoms and kings whereas the Ptolemaic empire seemed to be based on a curious balance of power between bureaucracy and clergy. Inveighing against kingship could not advance Seleucid interests against Egypt (except as discussed above with respect to literate elites), but it could against Rome.

              I probably need to publish my evidence for the Ptolemaic/Davidic parallels to help folks make sense of the above.

              • pete
                2014-09-13 01:51:34 UTC - 01:51 | Permalink

                I suspect that “force multiplying” is not just a
                military strategy, but a long standing tradition of
                historians who wish to amplify their culture’s
                strength in regards to potential invaders, actual
                invaders, and occupying cultures.

                I can believe that 2nd Temple editors/compilers of
                a pre-septuagint manuscript, a lost source for the
                masoretic lineage of texts, would adopt the traits
                of occupying culture’s kings to enhance the power
                of the narrative itself.

                You might remember how Justin Martyr attempted
                to deflate parallels between “pagan” religions and
                early Christianity by asserting that everything which
                is “good” about those parallels was determined by
                God as a prelude. In context of 2nd Temple scribes,
                they might be using the same tactic as Justin.

  • Reader
    2014-09-10 04:19:25 UTC - 04:19 | Permalink

    Just today I was pondering the question – are NT scholars historians? As a starting point I “Googled” the term.

    Came upon this article Which historians should we trust?
    http://www.is-there-a-god.info/belief/believewho.shtml

    The following drew my attention to E.P. Sanders “the lists of facts about Jesus that are “almost beyond dispute” developed by EP Sanders, especially that on pages 10-11 of his book The Historical Figure of Jesus, because Sanders is respected as a careful scholar who has expressed no religious belief or disbelief;”

    So I started to investigate who he was and what he wrote about the historical Jesus(?).
    Something immediately jumped out at me. This scholar *assumed* a historical Jesus and that the Gospels are more or less reliable accounts of his deeds. He work his way forward from these assumptions.

    The reviewer Russel Ince spotted the very same thing:

    “From the outset it might be helpful to add that unlike myself, Sanders assumes an historical Jesus and his work is neither an attempt to prove his historicity nor a discussion on the nature of historical evidence (which apparently he discusses in an earlier work) but, rather, an attempt to paint an historical Jesus based on the assumption that, firstly, he existed and, secondly, that the gospels can tell us something about him. ”

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/135894.The_Historical_Figure_of_Jesus

    Another review I found of Sanders is :

    Review of The Historical Figure of Jesus (2008) by Jacob Aliet
    http://infidels.org/library/modern/jacob_aliet/historical.html

    From his conclusion Aliet states “Five main weaknesses in Sanders’ approach have been demonstrated in this review. The first one is treating the existence of a historical Jesus as an axiom.”

    I found a book that seems to address my initial question(hint for Neil to add to his reading list):

    The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament by Beth M. Sheppard
    Publisher: Society of Biblical Literature (November 11, 2012)

    I intend to go through each scholar and see if they all start from these two assumptions that Sanders has as his starting point.

    Then I came upon this article.

    Physicists do not have differing interpretation on Newton laws of motion but ask the NT guild who Jesus was and the haunting voice of Albert Schweitzer tells us that the answer depends on who has looked into the well.Please Professor Theologian McGrath what are the fundamentals that NT agree on about Jesus? As stated above they cannot even coherently define who he was (Question 1 of Ben Goren’s challenge).In physics scientist are free to hold whatever belief they choose but when it comes to the physics evidence is king.Physicists agree that F=ma.

    It is not the same with biblical scholars as a rule. There are no categories of:
    fundamental physicists
    evangelical physicist
    conservative physicist
    liberal physicist
    secular physicist
    radical physicist

    There are only physicist who specialize in different areas – cosmology, nuclear, theoretical, experimental etc. ideology and faith takes a backseat, unlike in NT studies where it(faith and ideology) leads.

    To that commentator the question is whether what these Christian departments (specifically those specializing in the character of Jesus) are doing is History or something else. Neils review of Michael Grants book on Jesus showed that even supposedly secular historians are under the Jesus spell and assume historicity first.

    • Scot Griffin
      2014-09-11 06:13:13 UTC - 06:13 | Permalink

      I agree that most mainstream NT “historians” assume an historical Jesus. But even those who doubt an historical Jesus tend to accept the assumption of an historical “Christianity” (whatever that means absent an historical Jesus) that predates the formation of Christian canon and the Catholic Church. That’s to be expected given the 1600 years the Church’s “history” has circulated (cognitive scientists call the phenomenon “anchoring and adjustment”), but if we continue on the current vector of NT scholarship, even that assumption may eventually become open to question. Who knows? I just don’t understand how anybody can expect to divine the “truth” from within (i.e., from the text of) a corpus of literature hopelessly contaminated with forgeries, “interpolations,” and outright fiction. Perhaps, contrary to the vitriol of people like McGrath, many mythicists are predisposed to try to redeem Christianity from the accusation it was a scam from the beginning, which begs the question “when did Christianity, as we understand it, begin?”

      • Neil Godfrey
        2014-09-11 09:47:39 UTC - 09:47 | Permalink

        But even those who doubt an historical Jesus tend to accept the assumption of an historical “Christianity” (whatever that means absent an historical Jesus) that predates the formation of Christian canon and the Catholic Church.

        I don’t think a model that dates Christianity prior to the formation of the canon and Catholic church is necessarily tied to an assumption of a historical Jesus. Quite independently of any HJ concept there is a reasonable case to consider that many of the epistles date to the middle of the first century and these letters appear to presume some historical development of churches prior to their composition. But I don’t think the Christianity of those epistles originally looked like any Christianity we would recognize as such today. I think we would have significant problems if we tried to date the letters after the gospels.

        • Scot Griffin
          2014-09-11 15:51:41 UTC - 15:51 | Permalink

          “I don’t think a model that dates Christianity prior to the formation of the canon and Catholic church is necessarily tied to an assumption of a historical Jesus.”

          But it may be tied to an assumption that the connection made by the Church between the collected works of the canon is, in fact, a valid connection. Syncretism is the act of merging a myriad of different beliefs and traditions into something new. The fact that what appears to be an older tradition finds its way into a later, syncretic belief system cannot be assumed to imply continuity between the former and the latter. Just as importantly, it cannot be assumed that the expression of the older tradition that finds its way into the later belief system has done so without change.

          “Quite independently of any HJ concept there is a reasonable case to consider that many of the epistles date to the middle of the first century and these letters appear to presume some historical development of churches prior to their composition.”

          I cannot really comment. If you can point me to some scholarship or prior posts on this point, I would appreciate it. One question, though, if you remove the impediment of an historical Jesus who died in 30 CE, is there any reason you can’t date the epistles earlier than the middle of the first century CE? Why not the first century BCE? I suspect that the dating of the earliest epistles to the middle of the first century CE was arrived at, in part, because the existence of an historical Jesus put a hard stop on how far back in time scholars believed they could go.

          “But I don’t think the Christianity of those epistles originally looked like any Christianity we would recognize as such today.”

          Hence my questioning the continuity between the two. Other than claiming to worship Yahweh, the Yahwism of the OT appears to bear no relation to the Yahwism of older traditions. None of the extrabiblical evidence of Yahwism we have prior to the second century BCE demonstrates knowledge of the OT or the practice of Yahwism as set forth therein. The evidence we have does not imply the slow evolution of Yahwism over time, or any continuity between the Yahwism of the OT and what came before. It appears highly syncretic, at least to me.

          “I think we would have significant problems if we tried to date the letters after the gospels.”

          You have said that before, although I still don’t understand why we would have problems or what those problems might be. Logically, I have no concerns about accepting that the epistles predate the gospels, and I don’t think I have ever argued that they do. At the same time, given the amount of “pious fraud” involved with the collection of documents that make up the Christian canon, I have no reason to believe that the epistles that we know today have not been altered from the originals, perhaps significantly so. For example, could it be that Paul, in the original texts, only referred to “Christ” and never to “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ,” i.e., that the references to Jesus were interpolations intended to establish a false connection between whatever Christ the Paulines worshipped (the celestial being?) and the historical Jesus set forth in the gospels. This goes back to your point of the original “Christianity” of the epistles, above.

          I really am just asking questions here.

          • Bertie
            2014-09-11 17:22:11 UTC - 17:22 | Permalink

            On a BCE dating for Paul’s Epistles:

            Corinth was refounded in 44 BCE. This location is mentioned in multiple epistles.
            Caesar is dictator in 48-44 BCE; Octavian takes his name as do his successors and so from 48 on there is at least some plausible referent to the Caesar mentioned in the Philippians Epistle.
            But now a possible problem: Aretas, referenced in 2 Corinthians in association with Damascus. An Aretas III ruled the Nabataeans until 62 BCE, although losing Damascus a decade earlier.

            On a 2nd century CE dating for Paul’s Epistles:
            Multiple Epistles discuss a collection for the poor of Jerusalem. This would be nonsensical for some decades after the destruction of the city in 70 CE, as only later would the city be repopulated. A collection would then again become nonsensical for a time after 135.
            An Aretas IV ruled the Nabateans 9-40 CE. There is no evidence outside of the ambiguous mention in 2 Corinthians that he ever ruled Damascus (conquered by Rome decades earlier) though.

            These last two would mean nothing to a hypothesis assuming fiction, of course. But there’s more subjective matters: an active debate over circumcision (Galatians) and imminent apocalyptic expectations (1 Thessalonians) are both anachronistic to the 2nd Century. The character of Paul — easily the most three-dimensional, realistic human in the entire Bible — would be an incredible creation, combining fictional character development of an order rarely seen in the ancient world (where stock and flat was the norm) with forgery of the highest order. And oh yeah, while you’re doing your fiction writing and forging, you have to write the most influential piece of theology in all of Western Civilization (Romans).

            • Scot Griffin
              2014-09-11 20:40:19 UTC - 20:40 | Permalink

              Thanks for the details. Very helpful.

              On Aretas IV, Wikipedia says he ruled from 9 BCE to 40 CE (not 9 – 40 CE). I’m not saying Wikipedia is right . . .

              On Paul, it has probably been two decades since I’ve read the NT from start to finish, so I can’t say how much of a “realistic human” Paul was. Turning to the OT, though, the characters of Saul, David and Solomon are pretty well drawn as well, and there is evidence that those three characters are based on the biographies of Alexander, Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, respectively, all of which were in circulation some time after 246 BCE. One of the reasons people believe Saul, David and Solomon actually existed is because of the detail and humanity displayed in their stories. So, I don’t think you can rely on the “truthiness” of the biblical character as an indication of whether that character actually existed in history. Everything comes down to the available source material at the time of writing. If you have the benefit of a biography that stands as a character study of the subject, it does not take much creativity to take that real story, make some adaptations here and there to make it work within the context of the world you are describing, and present it as the story of a fictional character.

              • Bertie
                2014-09-12 12:24:10 UTC - 12:24 | Permalink

                Oops, you’re right on the Aretas IV dates.

              • Martin
                2014-09-23 16:33:47 UTC - 16:33 | Permalink

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

                I took a look and it has vastly improved. There used to be some horrible pseudo-scientific nonsense about numismatic evidence for Aretas IV being governor of Damascus, “The Aretas’ administration in Damascus may have begun as early as AD 37 based upon archeological evidence in the form of a Damascus coin, with the image of King Aretas and the date 101“.

                Thankfully this canard has now been removed from WikPedia, but you can still find it on the Net if you google for it.

          • Confused
            2014-09-11 23:58:47 UTC - 23:58 | Permalink

            If I understand Scott correctly – I too have a suspicion that Christ references in ‘Paul’ never used the Jesus name. No way to prove it though.
            If I misunderstood you Scott feel free to scold me.

            • Scot Griffin
              2014-09-12 01:36:03 UTC - 01:36 | Permalink

              For the most part, I’m just asking questions. I am not arguing that Paul did not originally know or refer to Jesus or Jesus Christ, I’m just suggesting that the absence of an historical Jesus calls into question whether he did or not because what we know of Paul was delivered as a piece of a body of work that, as a whole, urges the existence of an historical Jesus, and we have reason to doubt the sincerity and integrity of those who originally transmitted that body of work as a unified whole.

              “No way to prove it though.”

              Sometimes, you don’t know what you can prove unless you try to do so. A lot of evidence is overlooked or assumed away to maintain the integrity of preconceived beliefs. You could probably use Carriers’ BT approach to prove that it is most probable that Paul did not refer to Christ as Jesus, particularly if you accept Carrier’s assertion that Paul and the earliest Christians viewed Christ as a celestial being. Why give Christ a name besides Christ?

              • buttle
                2014-09-13 16:12:59 UTC - 16:12 | Permalink

                Why couldn’t Paul just take the Jesus name from scripture, as he constantly claims? If the author of Mark was reading Zechariah 3 (the vests taken away, the turbant in the head, etc…) so probably was Paul reading it (the instantaneus atonement of sin, the devil, etc…).

          • 2014-09-12 01:29:18 UTC - 01:29 | Permalink

            But it may be tied to an assumption that the connection made by the Church between the collected works of the canon is, in fact, a valid connection.

            No doubt this is so within the scholarly establishment. I don’t know many mythicist arguments that work with this assumption unless they explain they are using it for the sake of argument or do support their views with arguments independent of the assumption you mention.

            The fact that what appears to be an older tradition finds its way into a later, syncretic belief system cannot be assumed to imply continuity between the former and the latter. Just as importantly, it cannot be assumed that the expression of the older tradition that finds its way into the later belief system has done so without change.

            No doubt. Roger Parvus has been posting a series pointing to what he sees as evidence of the changes that were foisted upon Paul’s writings. The doctrinal interpolations in Paul’s letters are legion. If the Gospel of Mark shows Pauline influences it also contains ideas that are contrary to Paul’s apparent views, too.

            if you remove the impediment of an historical Jesus who died in 30 CE, is there any reason you can’t date the epistles earlier than the middle of the first century CE? Why not the first century BCE?

            Possibilities are many. On what criteria do we arrive at a date range and probability? One difficulty with setting Paul’s letters back further and further is that the question of explaining either the “long silence” before we hear of Paul as a person of renown in the extant evidence and/or why the figure Paul was considered to be a figure of such relevance to those who left us the extant evidence.

            I don’t know of any mythicist arguments that date Paul with the aid of an assumption of any hypothesis based on the HJl, by the way.

            You have said that before, although I still don’t understand why we would have problems or what those problems might be. . . . . At the same time, given the amount of “pious fraud” involved with the collection of documents that make up the Christian canon, I have no reason to believe that the epistles that we know today have not been altered from the originals. . .

            There are evident theological links between Paul and the gospels, for example. There does appear to be some strata of development. That does not mean the development was smooth or linear; it evidently involved controversial mixes of ideas and conflicts, too. Paul’s writings (and this involves disputes over his original texts) appear to have had their a more “directly linear” progression towards the gnostics. When we first encounter Paul in the “more secure” evidence we find different groups fighting for the right to claim his legacy. Conflicting myths or legends are there from the beginning: the Pastorals, the Acts of Paul and Thecla versus the Acts of the Apostles, Marcionism, etc.

            The doctoring the the manuscripts is enough to make one despair, agreed. I guess the best we can do is try to justify every notion with some datum and explanatory argument. Was the name “Paul” even the original one on the letters? I’ve posted on the art of ancient epistolary fictions (Rosenmeyer) and Brodie argues for Paul being a product of a “school” rather than a real individual. All possibilities and I’ve questioned whether the second century ce or the first century bce are all likely options for the letters.

            That’s why most of what I write in relation to Paul’s letters is always tentative (and very often “for the sake of argument”).

            Syncretism is clearly evident in Paul’s writings. Even his concept of “apostle” is part of the milieu of the Hellenistic Cynic-Stoic itinerant “advocate/preacher”.

            • Scot Griffin
              2014-09-12 01:58:27 UTC - 01:58 | Permalink

              “Possibilities are many. On what criteria do we arrive at a date range and probability?”

              Sometimes, the uncertainty is so great that probabilities cannot be assigned in any meaningful way. It’s okay to admit that you can’t know, or even guess at, what really happened based on the evidence available to us. On the other hand, when the early history of the Church was so committed to destroying any prior counter-narrative, the lack of evidence of the prior counter-narrative can be used to undermine the validity of the Church’s narrative. One can use the fact that the defendant destroyed evidence to prove the defendant is guilty as accused.

              “There does appear to be some strata of development. That does not mean the development was smooth or linear; it evidently involved controversial mixes of ideas and conflicts, too.”

              Which begs the question “when did the development happen?” Was it a continual, evolutionary process? Or could it have largely occurred in the time of Constantine, for example? I don’t know. It just seems to me that since Wellhausen, the slow evolution of the development of the OT specifically and the Bible generally, has been assumed even while the evidence of revolutionary development is amassing (and largely ignored).

              • 2014-09-12 02:59:25 UTC - 02:59 | Permalink

                Which begs the question “when did the development happen?”

                If by “begging the question” you mean “raises the question”, yes it does.

                Conservative scholarship may be ignoring recent research but I’d like to think the range and numbers of authors agreeing with the perspectives of the “minimalists” and their like are growing.

              • Scot Griffin
                2014-09-12 03:53:10 UTC - 03:53 | Permalink

                Minimalism seems confined to the OT. To the extent that OT minimalists venture into discussing the NT, they tend to maintain their neutrality (as Thompson did in Is This Not the Carpenter?).

                In spite of the fact that he incorrectly characterizes Thompson’s publicly stated position on the historicity of Jesus, I do think Carrier is bringing an essentially minimalist approach to NT studies. As I’ve said before, though, I find his acceptance/reliance on “expert” consensus troubling because most NT experts don’t apply a minimalist approach. It will probably take at least 10 more years before we see the type of “minimalist” movement in NT studies that we have in OT studies today, but I expect the results will be much more profound because the establishment of the Christian canon is a much more well-defined event than the establishment of the Jewish canon.

  • 2014-09-10 05:17:04 UTC - 05:17 | Permalink

    Ah, you bring back fond memories. Way back in 2010 then Associate Professor James McGrath challenged me to read E. P. Sanders and arrive at different conclusions from the evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

    So I did: http://vridar.org/category/book-reviews-notes/sanders-jesus-and-judaism/ — scroll down to the 2010 posts.

    There were many other posts back in those days about historical methods, assumptions etc. but my indexing was not anticipating what I’d need to be finding today.

    (Have downloaded Sheppard and will attempt to read bit by bit and complete before too long.)

    • Reader
      2014-09-10 15:47:39 UTC - 15:47 | Permalink

      Looking at those posts on Sanders, realized I should have started in the “Vridar locker” to find out more about my queries.

  • Steven Carr
    2014-09-10 05:50:35 UTC - 05:50 | Permalink

    MCGRATH
    But people like Ehrman and myself who teach at secular universities do not need to be placed in the same category, do we? …

    CARR
    Is this the same McGrath who recently wrote that Ehrman was now writing ‘idiosyncratic’ books , and that his views had now become ‘atypical’?

    Deviate from the party line in any way, and McGrath will insult, but not refute you, even if you are somebody he claims to respect…..

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-09-10 06:49:23 UTC - 06:49 | Permalink

      You’ve piqued my interest. What did li’l Jimmy mean by “idiosyncratic”?

      • Steven Carr
        2014-09-10 07:58:13 UTC - 07:58 | Permalink

        I think ‘idioysyncratic’ just means ‘does not agree with the consensus’

        I wonder why McGrath thinks people should ever bother writing a book.

        If they agree with the consensus, why write them? They only repeat what is already known.

        If they disagree with the consensus, then, by definition, they are espousing views which can be derided.

        • Tim Widowfield
          2014-09-12 05:42:38 UTC - 05:42 | Permalink

          That sort of thinking leads to book burning.

    • Mark Erickson
      2014-09-11 12:18:22 UTC - 12:18 | Permalink

      You’ll have to provide the reference because James often justifies the existence of lots of historical Jesus models as evidence of the vibrant field of New Testament studies. I’m not saying he doesn’t contradict himself, but that I’d like to see the context.

  • 2014-09-10 13:14:37 UTC - 13:14 | Permalink

    A “New Testament historian” is a literary critic who has convinced himself and others that he’s a historian.

  • 2014-09-10 16:35:24 UTC - 16:35 | Permalink

    “the boundary on the right does not exist. Within the guild a scholar can still be considered competent and highly respected even though he or she believes all the books in the NT are authentic and the inspired Word of God.”

    The largest irony, of course, is that those NT scholars who think that all of the books are authentic and the inspired Word of God are also most likely Creationists.

    So who is more like Creationists: Mythicists or actual Creationists?

    • Tim Widowfield
      2014-09-12 05:52:39 UTC - 05:52 | Permalink

      I’ve seen historicists use many of the same tactics that creationists use. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever posted about it, or if I merely meant to do so and forgot.

  • Pingback: Which Is More Absurd? | διά πέντε / dia pente

  • Bee
    2015-09-30 10:06:45 UTC - 10:06 | Permalink

    Nice!

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