Bringing two recent posts together: Philip Davies and Life of Brian

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by Neil Godfrey

Speaking of Jesus and Brian, and with Philip R. Davies still very much in mind, here is a quote from Philip Davies’ contribution to that volume:

This little detail … leads me to ask whether any details of the traditions of Jesus of Nazareth are historically true — bearing in mind that traditions are all we have. . . . .

The modern scholarly Jesus biographer tries to convert traditions like these [e.g. the betrayal by Judas] into historical facts, and theological explanations into historical ones. The outcome is instructive: a plurality of Jesuses, among whom are a charismatic holy man (Vermes), deluded prophet (Schweitzer), Cynic (Crossan), revolutionary (Brandon), incarnate deity (any number, including N. T. Wright). In making these reconstructions the biographer also has to decide whether, as in the case of Q (if there was a Q), anything but the words ascribed to Jesus mattered or, as with Paul, it was really only his death (and you can’t get much more different than that!). The plurality of ancient and modern Jesuses gives Christian believers more choice than they probably want, but in this age of consumer choice we should not expect too much complaint.

Davies, P.R., 2015. “The Gospel of Brian” in: Taylor, J.E. (Ed.), Jesus and Brian Exploring the Historical Jesus and his Times via Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. pp. 87f

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Neil Godfrey

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9 thoughts on “Bringing two recent posts together: Philip Davies and Life of Brian

  1. “…anything but the words of Jesus mattered, or as with Paul, it was really only his death. “

    The two “personalities” of a schizophrenic religion. One, a beacon for moral progress, the other a sword to discipline the masses.

    If the Jesus of the gospel really existed, Paul did his best to marginalize him. The vision on the road to Damascus was just a change of tactics.

    If this Jesus never existed, the gospel writers lent moral credibility to Paul’s fantasies. For better and for worse.

    1. Faith vs works is the critical Christian divide. Paul vs James. Augustine vs Jerome. Luther vs Erasmus. The history is nicely covered in Michael Massing’s joint biography of Erasmus and Luther, “Fatal Discord”. It’s a fascinating read.

      1. There seems to be a problem with the site notifications. I check “notify me of follow up comments” but don’t receive a notification.

        I forgot to mention Pelagius above on the side of works. Calvin vs Arminius and Wesley could be added.

  2. There’s a fantastic book by Davies called “Whose Bible Is It Anyway?” where he also talks about The Life of Brian in the last chapter. (The book has some of the most interesting, subversive reinterpretations of Bible narratives I’ve read.)

  3. Thanks DW for the info. on that book “Whose Bible….” which I’ll look for. It blew my mind to watch Joseph Atwill’s doco. “Caesar’s Messiah Jesus A Roman Invention” from which it has become clear that understanding the transition of the Roman empire from the Julio- to the Flavio- dynasties and tactics used to pacify the militant Jewish Messianism is key to the search for the historical Jesus. It would be a great debate indeed if we could get Atwill together with Carrier or Price to try to find common ground in a scholarly setting. I’m in Australia and don’t have any connections with these experts; does anyone in the US have a way of contacting them?

    1. Unfortunately Joseph Atwill and Richard Carrier do not get along. Carrier has dismissed Atwill’s arguments for logical and methodological fallacies but in offensive tones. I have attempted on this blog a few times to express my own criticisms of Atwill’s arguments with respect and professionalism but sadly Atwill has responded with something less than full civility.

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