Daily Archives: 2015-09-11 22:42:23 GMT+0000

Part 2 of McGrath’s Review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

shepherds

(Part 1 can be found here: McGrath’s BI Review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, 1)

McGrath begins his second attempted substantive criticism of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus with the following mischievous introduction:

It is obviously very easy to find parallels when one’s standard for positing one text having inspired another is that there be prepositions in both, and when something being different (such as gender) can simply be treated as a deliberate reversal.

Of course none of the many peer-reviewed scholarly arguments for reading ancient texts (both classical and biblical) intertextually and mimetically posit a standard “that there be prepositions in both” or “something different . . . can simply be treated as a deliberate reversal.” Nothing in the example McGrath quotes from Carrier supports the suggestion that Carrier is playing fast and loose with superficial rationalizations of counterintuitive similarities. Scholarly criteria for the sort of reading Carrier is undertaking abound: for some of these see 3 Criteria Lists and the several citations in Deeps Below, Storms Ahead.

Without any explanation of Carrier’s overall argument in any of his Bible and Interpretation “reviews” (one normally expects to find an explanation of the overall argument of a work any scholarly review) and without any explanation of where Carrier’s discussion of the Gospel of Mark fits in his larger thesis, McGrath proceeds to quote one portion of Carrier’s discussion of Mark’s use of narratives from Exodus:

Moses performs two water miracles that end the people’s thirst: the tree revealed by God (making bitter water drinkable again, his second miracle), and the flow of water struck from a rock (his fourth miracle). Mark has split these up, so that each inspires two miracle narratives for Jesus, but in different sequences, thus keeping the total miracle narratives in each sequence at five ­ yet another conspicuous coincidence, evincing considerable artifice. In the first sequence Mark draws on the water ­from ­a­ rock episode, which carried the theme of faith overcoming fear and thus obtaining salvation. Hence, the episodes of Jairus’s daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage have the same theme of faith overcoming fear to achieve salvation from suffering or death. The woman also flowed with blood, while the rock flowed with water. And in the Jairus narrative Jesus takes only his top three apostles with him into the bed chamber (the pillars Peter, James and John: Mk 5.37), just as Moses is told to take only three elders with him to strike the rock (Exod. 17.5). The Exodus narrative likewise has the Jews perishing and worried about dying (17.3), thus Mark produces parallel narratives about a woman perishing (besides the obvious fact that she was slowly bleeding to death, that her condition was worsening is explicitly stated: Mk 5.26) and a girl who died.

Oblivious to the context of the above passage and forgetful of all other scholarship relating to textual and thematic links between the Gospel and Pentateuch McGrath responds with a rhetorical question:

Did the woman’s flow of blood remind you of Moses and the water flowing from the rock? 

read more »

The Memory Mavens, Part 8: Chris Keith, Post-Criteria Scholar? (1)

Ricky Jay
Photo: Lincoln lays his hand on Ricky Jay
Poster from the film Deceptive Practice.

When magician Ricky Jay performs an amazing card trick, people will often ask, “How do you do that?” He always answers, “Very well, thank you.”

Such masters of prestidigitation rarely, if ever, give away their secrets. Sometimes they take their arcane methods with them to the grave, leaving even their fellow conjurers to wonder for eternity, “How did he do that?”

Of course, it isn’t supposed to be that way in scholarship. We should be able to look at a paper’s abstract and have a fairly good idea as to the author’s thesis, methods, terminology, etc. And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the works of the Memory Mavens and wondered to myself, “What are they getting at?”

Worse than that, I’m frequently left wondering how the scholar, after many pages of legerdemain, leaves us with a portrait of Jesus left on the table — which is exactly the one he predicted (and hoped) he would find. What was his method? “How did he do that?”

A New Methodology?

The Memory Mavens often spend a great deal of time expounding upon the deficiencies of the criteria approach. In Chris Keith’s Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origin of the Conflict he says it “represents [an] ill-conceived historiographical method that is essentially stuck in historical positivism.” (Keith, 2014, Kindle Locations 1539-1540) He writes:

. . . I consider it irreparably broken and invalid as a historical method. The issue for the scholarly agenda now is to define a post-criteria quest for the historical Jesus. (Keith, 2014, Kindle Locations 1559-1561, emphasis mine)

As far as Keith is concerned, we can take the criteria of embarrassment, dissimilarity, coherence, and all the rest, and throw them right out the window. They aren’t just broken; they’re fundamentally flawed.

In his concluding essay to the volume, Jesus among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels, Keith notes with disdain that relying on criteria “mistakenly” assumes we can extract the “real” Jesus hidden behind the text. He notes that more and more scholars are abandoning this approach.

Since the criteria of authenticity are built upon this assumption, and devised as a means of separating one from the other, this abandonment problematizes the usage of criteria of authenticity. (Keith, 2011, Kindle Locations 6314-6315, emphasis mine)

I hate when things get problematized, and I’ll bet you do, too. So the best thing, clearly, would be to set them aside. read more »