From Taborblog, by James Tabor:
Two Widely Held Assumptions About Early Christianity that Should Be Questioned
- The first assumption is that the essential story line we read about in the New Testament book of Acts is an accurate version of the early years of the Jesus movement following the crucifixion. John Dominic Crossan, properly calls the period from 30 CE when Jesus was executed, to around 50 CE when we get our first letter of Paul, the “Dark Age” of early Christianity. In other words we have almost no surviving texts or evidence from this period.
- The second grand assumption about early Christianity is the portrait of its clean break with Judaism and its subsequent harmonious (despite a few evil heretics) unbroken advance into the second and third centuries. This is the tale presented to the world by that undaunted “father” of Church History, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (c. 300 AD).
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8 thoughts on “So true, so true…”
1. The ‘dark ages of early Christianity’ extends way beyond 50 CE: it extends to 150 AD/CE at least. To assert that the first letter of Paul was written ~50 CE is woeful.
2. Some authors are saying the clean break with/from Judaism did not happen until the fourth century (I’ll see if I can dig up details of who and post below; I think at least one is a Gnostic scholar). The notion of a clean break in the later 1st century is unrealistic given the lack of documentation for it and the fact that so many 2nd century church fathers refer more to or write more about Judaism than they do Christianity.
May I add some issues of clarification to hopefully keep us on track. Here is a bit of my own considered position on some of this… Christianity is a Jewish sect,,, even a Pauline “sect” , if we accept Acts as having historical accuracy (asphalia) in some way. No exact consensus on this. It reflects a clear spirit of Heilsgeschicte . They are interpreting their history and experiences in the light of texts pneumatic experiences.
So one can see all kinds of things happening by view or vision of the Spirit! Acts is replete with pneumatic perception and so is Paul.
So Christianity needed to stay in continuity with Judaism in order to make a difference, so to speak. This is not all new.. since the scriptures or the spirit (to Luke he equates them at times!!!) talked about all that is happening…(Eg. Acts 2 etc.). So Luke is not writing history as we might understand. It is spirit infused! All theological and unprovable at many levels!
The NT in my view is that it is a further Midrashic preaching of a new sectarian interpretation of the ancients scriptures and this interpretation caused a lot of pneumatic phenomena that was experienced by Pauline congregations and then accepted as a real phenomena by Luke as well who most probably used by “Luke” to support Catholic Christianity and Paul’s most evident experiences with all kinds of “spirits” that is “pneumata” … real concrete so -called historical “appearances” of Jesus and his entourage of ministering spirits!
Boy!!, does Neil really get the theological and literary and historical and imaginative juices of the minds and words reflected here, wanting to get closer to the truth and more appropriate to each context. What a great gift! Heh, Neil you must be a charismatic!!! gnostic…You wouldn’t know anyway 🙂 nor any of us!
There is just too much diversity in early history and specifically the historicity of Jesus to even believe one mono influence was at work in any world!! Ancient or modern!
Christianity nor the historical Jesus can be nailed down by one hypothesis (Tim O’Neill et al) have not done any serious work in the texts themselves in the texts and traditions he sometimes appeals to in opposition to both Neil and Carrier.
As Neil once said before…Dr. Richard Carrier must be listened to and seriously engaged with. If it stops for stupid and poisoned reasoning we will all suffer,,, even all those historicists who won’t go into the devilish details that Carrier presents. So did Ehrman personally read Carrier’s book yet? If not, he is not following scholarly protocol. He is then setting a bad exampled for others. And I would wish sometimes he would do this and act more professionally and even with more integrity than he has shown on many occasions. I respect him highly but all of us in this field can get real pissed off at times with our collegues!
Got no more to say. I find myself as someone who has been involved in these debates so exhausting and often caustic! Not good for anyone’s health in so many ways.
What a world we are living in………………
In philosophy and theology, eclecticism (Greek eklektikos: “choosing the best.”) is the practice of selecting and compiling doctrines from different systems of thought, without adopting the entire parent system for each doctrine. It is distinct from syncretism, the attempt to reconcile or combine systems, in that it does not attempt to resolve the contradictions between them.
• Carrier has opined that that the philosophy of Paul is eclectic.
My superficial understanding of Middle Platonism is that it is eclectic and supernatural.
Cf. Doherty, Earl (2009). Jesus. pp. 24, 289. ISBN 978-0-9689259-2-8.
The 30-50 CE Dark Ages that Crossnan and Tabor accept is a Eusebian invention. Their bedrock history is still the tendentious imagination of Eusebius.
Working on the Bill Cosby case for the last four years, I am amazed by the misinformation that all sides put forward as historical fact. There is no evidence in the case that anybody ever claimed that they were drugged by Bill Cosby before Andrea Constand clearly falsely reported it happening to the police on January 13, 2004. Over 50 women have claimed this happened to them before Constand, but not one has provided any evidence that it did. Only after it had been in national news headlines on television and the internet for over two weeks did women start to step forward and accuse Cosby. It seems absurd that 50 (nearly all college educated woman) would not have written down anywhere in reports to police, lawyers, diaries, letters to friends or relatives, letters to newspapers or letters to the 200+ companies that employed Bill Cosby that they had been drugged by him. Between February and March 2005, when it was in the national news, 12 women, at least 10 of whom having histories of serious drug abuse and mental illness came forward with such claims. Not one woman came forward between March 2005 and November 2014 when the case was not in the national news. When the old accusers came forward again in 2014 and were featured on the national news, new accusers appeared, some 40+ over the next six months.
While there is no documentary evidence that any of these women were drugged by Bill Cosby, there is documentary evidence that at least a dozen of the women worked with Bill Cosby and even praised Bill Cosby, for years after they were allegedly drugged and assaulted by him.
The mass media has added to their 0% credibility by inventing a story that Cosby admitted to drugging women in sworn testimony, also completely false, but believed simply on the fact that it was repeated in the mass media reports starting in July of 2014.
On the hand, the rumor that Bill Cosby was somehow set up for trying to buy NBC, has also persisted. The actual evidence is that Bill Cosby put in several bids to buy NBC in the early 1990s. He was attacked by Wall Street reporters because of his inexperience in running a network. These attacks may have been partially motivated by their racism, but he himself withdraw from buying NBC when the price went too high. There is no evidence that this was the motivation for any of the allegations against him.
If these false stories are given credibility in contemporary times, with thousands of instantaneous reports being generated 24/7, imagine how many false stories could have been given credibility in ancient times without evidence.
If Acts is willful misrepresentation, why trust Luke’s Gospel as a source for historical information (or any Gospel, for that matter)?
Luke’s pro-Roman agenda comes through loud and clear, for instance.
One last thought.
I think we have to be careful assuming there are historical sources just because there is unique material in a Gospel. For instance, Ehrman will point to material that is unique to Luke’s Gospel and infer there is a ‘L’ source behind it. But this is a bit of a non sequiter. As Carrier points out, by analogy, there is new material about Moses in later non-canonical sources, but we wouldn’t infer this material goes back to the historical Moses. And we shouldn’t infer that just because there is mundane information in a Gospel that the mundane information is historical. Even in historical fiction there is all sorts of mundane, fictional content.
I completely agree. I don’t see how Ehrman can just assume that there are different sources as opposed to artistic license on the part of the authors, especially considering he’s published books (i.e. Forged) about early Christian authors making stuff up to suit their agendas — which is exactly what the Gospels look like! It’s a flaw in the historicist model that Ehrman and people like McGraw fail to see — the tradition says that the Gospels are based on oral history of the historical Jesus, therefore the Gospels are a source of information about him and he must have existed.
But the tradition is simply wrong. There is no evidence of an oral history, but there is ample evidence of literary influence, as shown by the works of people like Dr. Robert Price and R.G. Price (and that McGraw tries to dismiss this as “parallelomania” is frankly quite pathetic). Mark’s story is clearly rewriting OT scripture, and beyond that the later Gospel authors clearly copy from Mark, and freely change, augment, and ignore as they see fit. The view that there must be sources for these divergences as opposed to the authors making things up to suit their agendas is stunning.
And as Dr. Price would point out, that the Gospels are fictional stories doesn’t mean there definitely wasn’t an historical Jesus, but it does mean that we can’t expect to use the Gospels to find any reliable information about him.