A scholarly hankering….

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by Neil Godfrey

Michael Goulder

Scholars who have assumed a position over many years do not quickly recant it and publicly admit their error; nor can a novel hypothesis expect to carry the day at once in a conservative profession. It may be particularly difficult to shift opinion over texts which are fundamental to the faith of the critic. With time scholars came to treat sympathetically my arguments for the evangelists’ creativity: their freedom to create Nativity stories out of Old Testament types, and their ability to create or develop parables in line with their own stylistic and doctrinal concerns. They have been less willing to accept Matthew and Luke as embroiderers of earlier Gospel traditions, because there is a hankering after putative lost sources and oral traditions which would take us back to the historical Jesus.

And then there’s the suspicion that a challenge to fundamentals implies a questioning of scholarly integrity:

The Q hypothesis has been part of the ‘assured results of scholarship’ for more than a century, and despite my aggressive campaigning against it, it is still the standard teaching in most universities. I have over the years proposed two potent arguments in favour of Luke’s knowledge of Matthew, neither of which has been adequately criticized by defenders of Q . . . . . The puzzle to me has been why such arguments, which seem so conclusive, have failed to convince my leading opponents. I once had an uncomfortable conversation with Christopher Tuckett, with whom I have had a slightly uneasy friendship over twenty-five years. He asked me two disturbing questions: first, ‘Do you really not believe in Q, Michael?’ and second, ‘Do you think I am honest?’ as though he thought that one or other of us must be playing games, rather than seriously pursuing the truth.

Once committed….

I do think that Christopher is honest, but I am unable to understand how, after years of discussion orally and in print, he still finds the evidence I have produced so unconvincing. It was reassuring to be told by Francis Watson, when he was Professor at Aberdeen, that I had persuaded him about Q; but I think it is probably asking too much to expect those like Neirynck and Tuckett, who have nailed their colours to another mast, to be able to consider with the necessary open-mindedness a view which so undercuts their own position.

Goulder, M. D. 2009. Five Stones and a Sling: Memoirs of a Biblical Scholar. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press. p. 134

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11 thoughts on “A scholarly hankering….”

  1. The puzzle to me has been why such arguments, which seem so conclusive, have failed to convince my leading opponents.

    Maybe hermeneutic gathering and inferences that lead to creating an interpretive framework aren’t just objective sleuthwork, but are subject to bias, preference, point of view, culture, etc, and so are bound to lead to an embarrassment of riches of models due to the ambiguity and scarcity of the evidence (eg., Jesus as apocalyptic prophet, cynic sage, Euhemerized mythical being, etc.). In any case, as Derrida says, the force with which we are convinced by our framework isn’t evidence of the accuracy of the framework. The force of our conviction is partly just subjective feeling/preference.

  2. What was true two thousand years ago is still true today. As Julius Caesar observed, “. . . in most cases men willingly believe what they wish.” (Gallic Wars, Book 3.18)

    1. “Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” —(Demosthenes, Third Olynthiac, paragraph 19, Olynthiacs, Phillippics, Minor Public Speeches…)

      • Cf. “Self-deception”. Wikiquote.

  3. The point is to juxtapose such a claim by a member of the scholarly guild with other members who scoff at the idea that scholars are somehow biased against an even greater challenge to the colours they have fastened to their mast: the historicity of Jesus.

  4. Yes, this is a very interesting issue. I think this is a particular issue with Bart Ehrman. I posted on the early writings forum that I think Ehrman will, one day come out in favor of mythicism, and if/when he does, it will be world news and he’ll probably sell a million books for it. That’s how these things work. The people who were right all along are cast aside and their main opponents, get all the glory when they finally come around.

    Same thing happened with the Iraq War, etc. The people who were against it from the beginning were scoffed at, but those that supported it with gusto but were proven wrong came out on top once they finally acknowledged the folly of the effort. Same with the financial crisis. Those that warned of it were forgotten, and those that said there was no crisis and demanded bailouts are now in top positions.

    It’s the way of these things.

    1. The first person on Mars will likely (ceteris paribus) be a citizen of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Some PRC scholars discuss mythicism (viz. the Origin of Christianity), but are not fluent in the English language. There is no guarantee, but your work translated into Chinese and then popularized could make a lasting impression.

    2. I posted on the early writings forum that I think Ehrman will, one day come out in favor of mythicism, and if/when he does, it will be world news and he’ll probably sell a million books for it.

      You can’t be serious?

      1. Ehrman (28 May 2017). “Would I Be Personally Devastated if the Mythicists Were Right? A Blast From the Past“. The Bart Ehrman Blog.

        For my mailbag this week I dug into one from the past — almost exactly five years ago. I would probably answer it the same today.
        When I started my serious study of the New Testament, on the other hand, I had a view of  Jesus very much like the one most conservative evangelicals have: Jesus was a miracle-working son of God who came to earth principally to die for sins.   My historical studies eventually changed my views of Jesus.  I think every historian should be willing to change his views based on his study of the evidence.  Scholars who do not change their views – but come out of a study with the same views they brought into it – are highly suspect.
        Would I be traumatized if the mythicists were right after all?  Not in the least.  I would probably feel energized.   But I can’t allow that expected outcome [to] determine what I find when I engage in the difficult task of coming to understand what happened in the past.

        1. Why do you always quote sources without explaining why you are quoting them? It’s annoying. You do the same thing clogging up Covington’s blog with unexplained citations. Neil has already talked to you about this.

          R.G. Price said:

          I think Ehrman will, one day come out in favor of mythicism

          How does your quote lend any weight to Price’s claim Ehrman will probably come out in favor of Mythicism?

  5. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” I know Gandhi never said that, and I know some ideas deserve to be fought against, laughed at or ignored. But I firmly believe that mythicism will one day be seen as so obviously true that people will marvel that anyone ever doubted it.

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