2015-04-27

Two Quotations from Hal Childs

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by Neil Godfrey

From Hal Childs’ The Myth of History and the Evolution of Consciousness I addressed in my previous post:

Everything we know about Jesus is at least second- and third-hand. There is no way to confirm that material from multiple, independent witnesses actually goes back to Jesus. The scholar can only assume or hope it does — it is a question of probability but not necessity. But how reliable is the probability? There are no reliable epistemological procedures by which to determine this either. It remains a matter of personal preference. (p. 35)

And the following is from page 501 of “Jesus, Historians, and the Psychology of Historiography: A Response to My Respondents” by Hal Childs, Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 51, No. 6, July 2003. There was a special issue of Pastoral Psychology devoted to Hal Childs’ book.

Yet we only need to look at Saint Paul to realize the historic Jesus is not required by, nor necessary for, Christianity. Paul was transformed by his encounter with a Christ, and his own work with his encounter, in turn, transformed a Christ image that also became a cultural phenomenon. But Paul never knew the historic Jesus and it didn’t seem to matter in the least. Whenever Paul needed authorization for his views and experience he went directly to divine revelation. 

Childs is not a mythicist and the statement he makes is not an argument “for mythicism”. Rather, Childs is asking us to widen our understanding of all that the question of Christian origins involves.

Again, notice that Childs is not questioning the historicity of Jesus. That is not an issue. (He elsewhere writes on the assumption that there was a real Jesus.)
He is arguing that modern historians (and theologians) are guided more by contemporary ideas and interests in bringing their assumptions that that Jesus can somehow be located in and “reconstructed” from the texts we have than they are by any truly “objective” approach brought to the evidence itself.

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6 thoughts on “Two Quotations from Hal Childs”

  1. What ‘material from multiple, independent witnesses’?

    The Historical Jesus hypothesis only keeps its nose above water because people assume that there are ‘multiple, independent witnesses’… There aren’t. This author seems happy to make that assumption without actually investigating the evidence.

    -evan

    1. Perhaps the quote was more nuanced in context. I take his point to be that the “material” being witnessed was not of the purported original events but of a tradition that was already removed from its original source. The question of independence seems not really essential to that point.

  2. Excellent post, excellent point, and excellent comment from Evan Effa.
    Once again, a historicist gives good reasons why we should all be agnostics on the Jesus historicity issue – at best.
    -David Fitzgerald

  3. Yes, I believe by “witnesses” Childs was referring really to our sources that “witness” to us about the Jesus figure rather than anyone understood to be writing as an eye-witness of Jesus or from oral reports of those thought to be eyewitnesses.

  4. It is true technically that finding massive amounts of bias in attempts to find an historical Jesus, and huge errors in dogmatic Christianity, does not prove that there was no Jesus. However, it might strongly suggest that most religion is speculative fantasy.

  5. Excellent point. Why all the concern among “New Testament Scholars” to find an historical Jesus when it is abundantly clear that no historical would-be messiah named Jesus was necessary to start the religion? It seems to me Christianity came out of the “two powers” “heresy” of Judaism and its central deity of worship was given a human form modeled after Julius Caesar, Odysseus, Elisha, and Paul. “Mark” is the culprit.

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