If I were a biblical scholar I hope I would be ashamed to be associated with peers who descend to the level we see in the latest blogpost by Michael Bird. I hope I would publicly dissociate myself from their puerile level of discourse and make efforts to speak out for a professional standard at all times both in public and scholarly engagements. After calling anyone who denies the historical existence of Jesus a “crank” or “bad historian” and in effect hitting on them to pay around $40 to read an article in a subscription-only journal, Bird concludes with
Finally, let me add, for all those former Jesus Mythicists out there who suddenly feel their bowels becoming loose because this Jesus thing just got “real,” don’t worry, even if Jesus existed, you can still be an atheist, just not a dogmatic dumbass one.
Very profoundly Bird begins his post with the same shocking information that Larry Hurtado was recently presenting to the public. Did you know that mainstream biblical scholars on the whole do not accept the Jesus myth view? Hard to believe, I know, but that is the message that these scholars seem have thought is so badly needed lately that they have posted claims to just that effect. No doubt many readers will now be better informed and no longer believe the contrary!
If Jesus mythicism were such a crank, fringe notion then one does really have to wonder what prompts such scholars to make such a fuss about it. And why, oh why, would a peer-review journal run by editors who all think the Jesus myth notion to be arrant crankery publish a 37 page review by a scholar critical of its latest publication?
These constant insulting attacks on anyone who thinks or writes the wrong things, and even a 37 page review by a scholar who admitted he did not understand key sections of the argument of the book he was reviewing and who failed to explain to readers the significance the author assigned to the arguments he was criticizing in his review, all of this looks to me like a circling of the wagons, as Earl Doherty used to say.
It is treating the public, or any outsider, who dares to question the scholarly claims with disdain. It is sheer elitist snobbery among a field that even a good many scholars from other disciplines suspect ultimately has little serious academic legitimacy. Of course biblical studies has a vested interest in the historicity of Jesus. By declaring that they have Jews and atheists in their ranks doesn’t change that one whit.
Oh yes, they always add that they have a few (though they rarely say it’s only a few) atheists among them. That’s odd, because one of the regular ad hominem arguments against Christ Myth suspects is that they are mostly atheists and atheists are supposed to have a vested interest in the nonhistoricity of Jesus.
Rubbish. Atheists in internet land and the publishing world that I have encountered are very divided on the mythicist question. Many in online forums are well known to flatly reject mythicism. Many express nothing more than curiosity over the question. Atheists like John Loftus who are dedicated to attacking and undermining Christianity have said that the stupidest way they can imagine trying to attack Christianity is by promoting the idea that Jesus did not exist! They would lose their audience from the get-go with such an approach. Atheists have no such vested interest — as the existence of atheists among biblical scholars ought to demonstrate!
But if Richard Carrier, for example, tries to explain that as an atheist he has no vested interest then he is merely dismissed as “protesting too much“, that is, as being at worst a hypocrite or liar and at best of being naive, and his own unjustifiable penchant for personal attack is even identified with his historical methods!
And so the personal insults continue to serve as the front-line forces. The debate is not about the arguments. It is about the persons who write them and the persons who express an interest in them. They are to be so harshly abused that hopefully all witnesses will see and fear the condemnation handed out by the professional elite.
As Albert Schweitzer said of his day,
The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century. (Albert Schweiter, p.394, the 2001 Fortress edition of Quest) — and ditto for the 21st century!
In his day Schweitzer put the blame for starting that degeneration on the Christ Myth proponents. I think today that the primary responsibility lies with the other side.
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