Once more on that false courtroom analogy

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by Neil Godfrey

(Second part to “The Historian’s Wish List” – “clearly” jumping the gun)


Courtroom, lawyer and detective analogies seem to be especially favoured by evangelicals and even mainstream biblical scholars. No doubt the comparison with judges and criminal investigators lends a certain aura of credibility and authority to the methods or arguments that are being buttressed by the analogies, but as we have seen here a number of times before the analogy is very misleading.

Bart Ehrman is currently repeating the courtroom analogy he set out in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (1999) that seeks to explain how historians of Christian origins work. On pages 89-90 he writes (again my own bolding):

Here I’d like to sketch several of the methodological principles that have emerged from these debates. As you will see, there is a real logic behind each of them, and the logic needs to be understood for the criterion itself not to seem hopelessly arbitrary. In particular, it might help to use an analogy: in many respects, the historian is like a prosecuting attorney. He or she is trying to make a case and is expected to bear the burden of proof. As in a court of law, certain kinds of evidence are acknowledged as admissible, and witnesses must be carefully scrutinized. How, then, can we go about it?

. . . .

In any court trial, it is better to have a number of witnesses who can provide consistent testimony than to have only one, especially if the witnesses can be shown not to have conferred with one another in order to get their story straight. A strong case will be supported by several witnesses who independently agree on a point at issue. So, too, with history. An event mentioned in several independent documents is more likely to be historical than an event mentioned in only one.

But that is not how biblical scholars work and the analogy is seriously misleading. Continue reading “Once more on that false courtroom analogy”

Two interesting blogs

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Both address topics dear to my own heart:

The first, by Omri Van Peer, Cleverly Devised Myth? Omri has put in an enormous amount of work identifying possible links between the Gospel of Mark and the Septuagint (=Greek) version of the Old Testament. One does not have to agree with all of his inferences or connections to appreciate the abundance of though-provoking observations he makes. As Omri himself points out, best to start at the beginning: http://cleverlydevisedmyth.blogspot.com/2018/07/cleverly-devised-myth-is-marks-gospel.html

The second, Jonathan’s Musings, is not so new but it has moved from the Freethoughtblogs base. John’s interests overlap with those I sometimes post about, especially posts on the literary/biographical character of the gospels.