Looks like I cleverly managed to publish the same post twice instead of deleting one of the copies. I have deleted the contents of this post and add this redirection:
Why the Rabbis (and Gospel Authors, too) Wrote Fiction as “True History”
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12 thoughts on “Why the Rabbis (and Gospel Authors, too) Wrote Fiction as “True History” — Duplicate Post”
“I am not suggesting that reading Plato was part and parcel of rabbinic culture; the idea is preposterous.“
Why is it preposterous to think that rabbis of the first centuries ce read Plato?
Especially given precedents like Aristobulus and Philo. If you think Plato is a gentile recast of Moses that has to be grounded in atleast a cursory knowledge of Plato.
As Groucho Marx said:”If you heard this story before, then don’t stop me because I would like to hear it again!”
McGrath’s Jan. 19, 2019 post, “Jesus, Probably,” while foregrounding 1) his usual adamant and absolutistic support for an historical Jesus, 2) also incongruously contains some more critical views. Similar to our present rabbis.
A discussion of the two vascillating views now found in McGrath, might be useful.
I saw the Joseph Bernier post he refers to. It is based on false analogies and rather eccentric definitions. For one thing, it removes any distinction between a historical “fact” and a historian’s hypothesis. I don’t know of any historian (except in biblical studies one who is trying to legitimize the arguments against Jesus mythicism) who would say Germany’s invasion of Poland is a hypothesis. Would he dare be caught saying that the Nazi singling out and murders of Jews was a hypothesis?
As Tim has been pointing out, a biblical scholar does not have to employ sound reasoning or methods in certain criticisms; they only have to say something and their peers will applaud and declare the “menace of mythicism” has been decisively dealt with.
I also see that McGrath is about to begin a series on what Jesus learned from women, in particular from his mother Mary. I look forward to reading those posts since from what I know of the evidence he has at hand, he will be obliged to do history along the same lines as ancient historians who simply made up events on the basis of what they believed most plausibly happened in the absence of any evidence.
I do not think of Jesus as a person who learns anything – because the gospels, as part of their efforts to portray him as a god-man, do not present him as one who needs to learn. Within Roman Catholicism, teaching that Jesus needed to learn anything is apparently a heresy, if I understand things that I have read correctly.
All that is beside the point. McGrath is not writing about the “gospel Jesus” but the “historical Jesus” that he (along with most of his colleagues) believes can be discerned “behind the gospels”.
But how does one go behind the Gospels in order to discover information about a topic that the Gospels and other NT writings barely address (viz., Jesus’s learning from women)? The best way, I would imagine, would be to rely upon what may be known about the role of women in Galilee at the time when Jesus’s teachings are set, as well as to read every interaction that Jesus has with women in the gospels in its most generous light so that Jesus can be said to be learning from them rather than merely responding to their words. But how is this different from historical fiction writing, I wonder?
Also, I bet that McGrath will not cite Jesus’s confrontation with his mother as his mother’s teaching him that even hid family thinks him to be insane and incorrect. Too uncomfortable, I predict, for a Christian to explicate without at least some correction from other gospels.
That’s why McGrath’s use of Steve Wiggans is interesting. Wiggans was apparently taking a very Mythicist position. That there was no real original germ to most religions:
‘Christian history is full of movements where one group or another has “gone back” to the foundations to reestablish “authentic” Christianity. The problem is that centuries have intervened. That “original” worldview, and the sources to reconstruct that worldview, simply no longer exist. The primitivist religions have to back and fill a bit in order to have any foundation at all. What emerges are hybrid religions that think they’re pristine originals. Historians know, however, that no originals exist. ‘
Could McGrath be seriously or accidentally allowing a mythicist in his posts? W’s views seem to border on mythicism. Or to suggest that an accurate historicism is impossible.
I read Wiggins’ differently. He is saying that the historical record is too sparse to allow us to understand how things all got started, what the earliest Christians were like, etc. That’s essentially a truism.
Wiggins also speaks as a believer: in his post he warns that not getting things right is a matter of eternal life and death.
And this is precisely the attitude that one does not want in someone studying the origins of Christianity. How many leads will go unfollowed, how many assumptions will go unquestioned, because the scholar believes that if he/she make a given conclusion damaging to the Christian faith, he/she will spend an eternity in a hell-realm?
At least with Buddhism, even those scholars who, through their studies of Buddhist texts, cause a schism in the Sangha (such as Dolpopa) are not considered to go to hell-realms eternally – merely for a very long time.