How Did It All Come to This?

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by Neil Godfrey

From macrotourist.com

We loved one another when we met. I had left religion behind but still had an intellectual passion to understand the origins of the Bible and Christianity. I loved joining your company in online forums and you excited me a little each time you indicated some appreciation for any small contribution I could make. There was Mahlon Smith, Stevan Davies, Mark Goodacre. . . Even when James McGrath and I first met over his little volume The Burial of Jesus we expressed sincere appreciation for the opportunity to have had our thought-provoking exchanges. The main motivation for starting this blog was to share the fascinating things I was learning from specialist scholars. One of the first books I read and loved was John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. If only I had known years ago what I now knew after reading his book how much saner and less tortured my life could have been. I had the opportunity to meet Spong in the flesh one year and thank him for the doors he had opened for me. Then there was Marlene Winell’s Leaving the Fold. I loved the opportunity to share what I was learning from scholars about my past experiences, and my new understanding of the real nature of the Bible.

So what happened? Why, now, do we find ourselves being scorned and dismissed with contempt by the James McGraths, the Jim Wests, the Roger Pearses, the Larry Hurtados, the James Crossleys? Anthony Le Donne loved what he read on this blog until one of his colleagues tapped him on the shoulder and took him aside for a private talk. The list goes on. Fortunately there are also scholars, some in the field of biblical studies, who I have met and who continue to express appreciation for what Tim and I are doing here, and I sometimes think that without them as sanity checks I might have given up well before now. One well respected academic asked that I keep our correspondence confidential and I have respected that with all who have offered a supportive word. It really is too easy to arouse a hostile environment in some parts of the academy.

So what happened to bring this blog into . . . “controversy” seems too mild a word. It is clear that some of the most spiteful critics have never read or attempted to engage with the posts here. Maybe at best they skimmed (fast enough to avoid contamination) a few lines with hostile intent.

There surely was one turning point all would agree on.

I questioned, sincerely, hopefully, a few biblical scholars over certain details and arguments that were being advanced by Earl Doherty and then G. A. Wells (that’s the order I read them, Wells of course was writing well before Doherty) that seemed to undermine the very foundations of a historical Jesus behind the gospels and the epistles. I watched someone else, another lay person, asking the same questions on a scholarly forum and was sobered by what I saw, by how he was treated by a good many of these learned persons I had been looking up to and learning from. I know the difference between a sneer and a helpful response, between an insult and a clear, informative answer, between a misrepresentation and an honest reply.

As I saw that threatening cloud moving across more of the sky I thought I might try to do my bit. Surely, if I ask with respect, reasonableness. . . . But no, that’s not how the game worked, I learned. One rejects a priori, unambiguously, any position that lends itself to questioning what is probably the foundation of biblical studies, or else one will be “cast out into outer darkness”. Or hung up like a dangling puppet to be mocked by passers by.

Arguments were irrelevant, unless they were stock arguments one essentially learned and repeated by rote, like learning proof texts in a church catechism.

I tried, though. I was especially attracted to Philip R. Davies’ book In Search of Ancient Israel, in some ways a pioneering book that prised more widely open what became the “minimalist” school in Old Testament studies. Surely, all Davies was proposing was how historians generally worked. He was doing nothing more than applying the appropriate assumptions and scepticism any researcher brings to evidence and sets to work building an evidence-based case. But oh boy oh boy, what I was reading from Old Testament scholars in their savage and personally abusive attacks directed against their “minimalist” academic peers was just so familiar. If that’s how they treated scholarly peers then my god, no wonder mere outside amateurs can expect no mercy. If you are not familiar with that debate see The Tactics of Conservative Scholarship (according to J. Barr & N-P. Lemche)

And that did it. I was encouraged from that moment on to go full speed ahead in applying the principles of the standard methods of historians in any other field to biblical studies, even to the question of Christian origins. Historians of ancient times don’t lower any standards in comparison with historians of more recent times where documents are more plentiful. Of course not. All that changes with the less abundant evidence is the questions: we can’t ask questions that might explore the psychology or local socio-economic influences on certain decisions and actions of individuals. We modify our expectations of what the data might yield. It’s not all that different from writing a history of contemporary times when one knows that so many relevant documents are locked away and won’t be available for seventy or a hundred years. One modifies the questions and qualifies the answers accordingly.

That historicity of Jesus question goes to the heart of the flawed foundations of what appears from where I stand to be the entire enterprise of researching the origins of Christianity. To read the works of historians and classicists in other (non-biblical) areas is a vastly different experience from what one encounters in the works of theologians and divinity professors, even if they do call themselves “historians”. Yes, there are a few “real historians” who fall in line with their “biblical” counterparts, and it doesn’t take long to find that they, too, drop their usual critical stance when reading that book so central to our cultural heritage. And there are a growing number of truly insightful historians in biblical studies, too, but to date most of those are found only with the “Old Testament”.

And so here we are.

The naivety of the first love is long gone. Many New Testament scholars have circled their wagons. They have more to lose than those who pose serious questions about their methods and assumptions so in the short term, at the very least, I expect they will win. Those of us asking questions and researching with the tried and true approaches of historians generally don’t need any one particular answer to live by. There is much more to life than intellectual curiosity no matter how enjoyable the intellectual journey. But anyone whose whole life’s work and reputation may turn out to be open to a threat of any kind is not going to change course.

I have to remind myself that when I started this blog I knew most people would have no interest in my little hobby horse, and that relatively few others would allow me the joy of sharing with them whenever their questions and interests happened to be passing the time and place of mine.

And I have so much more to learn. And so much that I have read that I need to re-read and write about here. It’s been some years now but I feel like I’m just beginning. There is still so much fascinating scholarship that I know many of us would love to hear about and think through and discuss. Let’s hope against hope that some of less pleasant moments will become less intense and less frequent. I thank all appreciative and half-curious readers for pausing to have a little look in from time to time. Thank you.


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Neil Godfrey

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46 thoughts on “How Did It All Come to This?”

  1. Thanks for your great honesty and integrity Neil. Good luck as you go forth. I got a little nervous when I started to read it, thinking you had had enough…and even if you were to do so ..you would go out with a lot of companions here saying a big thanks… and sad.. but No…you are staying in it with much new breath….Fantastic!!!

  2. This blog is a tremendous resource and source of inspiration. This is, without a doubt, the most interesting and relevant resource for New Testament studies on the internet, at least for me. What other resource pushes the boundaries and actually provides interesting critical insights as opposed to just back-patting or confirming the views of its audience? It seems that most blogs these days have gone to the Fox News model.

    Don’t doubt the positive influence that you have. Above all else, you are a role model of objectivity, reasoned debate, and sincerity in a time when those things are in short supply and out of fashion. I know for a fact that your blog has a much larger audience than those that post here. I think there are a lot of silent watchers of this blog.

    You’ve cultivated a special resource on the internet and it’s something to be proud of.

    Thank you

    1. Amen to this. I’ve got the links to all the posts safely stored in the “Vridar” folder of my gmail. It takes a while to dissolve the assumptions one has about the gospel story, but eventually one stops saying ” But . . . but . . .but. . .”

  3. I second what the two posters above say. I read here every day. The new posts and the archives. This is a great resource. I think Neil keeps his head in a book. Don’t know where he gets the time to do so much. I don’t post here much simply because I am not not as informed as the other people here. Thanks a lot for the website and its content.

  4. Mine has been a very similar journey to yours, only I started with John Meier and then stumbled in to G.A. Wells. From then on, I read both historicists and mythicists. I came eventually to dismiss much of what I was witnessing from the historicists because of how much of it I discerned arose from their confessional interests.

    I even remember my first conversation with you, Neil. It was when I was moderating at JesusMysteries and I was trying to point out that the whole ‘christ’ thing was based upon the tradition of anointing with oil. I had posited that while Israelites might indeed consider such anointment to have religious overtones, Grecophones might not recognize such overtones. You chimed in at that point, noting that many Greeks might think the one referred to as ‘christ’ was some kind of athlete…an athlete who required the sponsorship of a rich benefactor just to afford the oil in which the athlete was ‘anointed’.

    Thank you. You, and many others, encouraged broader and conflicting views when the stalwarts of historical Jesus were turning to vituperative attacks. Keep it up.

  5. Any era of intellectual curiosity or relative freedom may be brief. I don’t doubt that some defenders of orthodoxy are merely biding their time and holding the line against open inquiry hoping for a return of an authoritarian Dark Age and they can resume as if it never happened.

  6. It is not just biblical studies.

    I come from a professional background in medicine (academic and private practice) and biology.

    I won’t even get into the topic of the slightly unorthodox or the novel (where one has to deal with both dogmatism and crackpotism, sometimes erudite) intellectually and professionally. I’ll just discuss how touchy they can be with what’s generally considered standard.

    Departments and private practices vary. However even if one sticks to what’s orthodox people can be surprisingly rigid depending on the situation. In an academic department if one wants to study a topic that’s a favored topic at other major institutions, if the big boss prefers a different topic as a topic to be investigated, then that topic one is interested in is a bad topic, and one is at risk for getting on a mental blacklist for mentioning the topic too much. Or perhaps because it’s a favored topic at certain rival institutions the big boss dislikes that it is a bad topic.

    If one comes to a new job and opens one’s mouth telling how they do things elsewhere where one has been working, even a major competing Elsewhere or a more prominent Elsewhere–for example, little cooking secrets on how they do a certain procedure, what software they use, what specialized device, what way of holding something or talking with patients–one might think that one’s comments would be welcomed as if getting a debriefing of trade secrets from a competitor. Instead one can receive an extremely icy reaction, indicating that one is not to be trusted. Not invented here. Not one of us.

    It is often thought that in some of medicine and science the fighting is so nasty because of the huge sums of money involved. Undoubtedly this thinking is right in many cases. However I think the fighting can be vicious in, say, the humanities, where typically there typically isn’t so much money. I keep thinking of how someone once liked to cite Kissinger to me as having said something to the effect of how in academics the fights are so vicious because there is so little (meaning money or power) to fight over.

      1. Every “human” institution? What other institutions are there? I have worked in some very depressing “human institutions” but I have also worked in some very uplifting and inspiring ones. Much generally depends on “human” leadership. I am thankful I can say from experience that the dismal side of “humans” does not dominate in “every human institution” at all. Happy to discuss specific experiences of the sort that appear outside your experience.

  7. Hi Neil, please keep up the fantastic work Tim and yourself devote to Vridar it has been a fantastic source for me over the years, I have spent the last 8 years reading Academic papers and books from the likes of Mack, Pervo, Ehrman, Eisenman, Mason, Brandon, Goodacre and many others and it still seems I am only scratching the surface, I find the history behind early Christianity fascinating and this blog is a much appreciated resource.

  8. I was in complete agreement with you until you mentioned the Old Testament. The way New Testament scholars have rejected mythicism (and minimalism) without really giving it a fair consideration is absolutely a testament against their professionalism, but I can’t help feel the sides are exactly switched as soon as you bring up Old Testament minimalism. I don’t know of any Hebrew linguists that would agree that the language of Hebrew texts can be dated to the Persian or Roman periods. The literary differences between most OT biblical texts and the format of acknowledged Persian/Roan texts like Daniel and Enoch are rather pronounced. Details about King Solomon indicate that he is a fictional version of King Jehoash and that Jeroboam I is a fictional version of Jeroboam (II), as shown an article I wrote linked below. This makes sense if those texts were written in the 9th century but makes little sense if written centuries later. Although I agree there is a possibility that there is another interpretation of the Tel Dan inscription, I find it strange that Old Testament minimalists can so easily dismiss the King David interpretation. Israsel Finkelstein’s revised chronology makes a lot more sense to me than the minimalists.


    1. Alfred, Offa, and Redwald were undoutedly kings of Wessex, Mercia, and East Anglia; however the upper registers of their genealogies are populated by legendary and mythical figures including the god Woden and fictive connections to ‘Caesar’. A ‘bytdwd’ can intimate a royal house without necessitating a real ‘David’. There are nine(?) Troys; they don’t attest the reality of Hector. What follows the ‘Stone Stepped Structure’ but an impoverished village? Pottery dated low; pottery dated high; I’ll make a stab: digging isn’t something Schliemann invented; people have always dug and they have probably always made interpretations based on what they have found. Suddenly we have evidence of cyclops from mastodon skulls and our succesion to great empires from the fallen walls of massive fortresses. I don’t note your Finkelsteins or Thompsons expressing certainties; only probabilities. A Big Book of Fantastic Fiction, be it Bible or Homer should not be mistaken for history let alone allowed to be its arbitrator. You are not doing that, obviously, but far to much credence is given to those that mistakenly do.

    2. Precept upon precept………… the similitude wheel of similarities in the regurgitated formulas of scripture foreshadowing conscience pos/neg energies portrayed as sexual causation resulting in multitudes of undeveloped images that become fetuses of following effects when fertilized with will power/desire to re-spawn a emotional high, balanced with it’s mirroring low.

      The broad road of sensory addiction is the drug we pay attention to, compelled into purchasing more……….. the currency supply is the problem when its quality is of lower energy, with it’s negative effects of depression, behavioral mood swings, the science of scripture bastardized into a superstition or a intellectual dart board is a fools playground.

      The realm of experience is the controlling factor in any personal belief, when the reversed mirroring effect is reflected back from another persona were programmed to think its a foreign concept when it’s just balancing each others experience trying to centered both.

      Gently row the boat merrily down……………. stream, or strain going up.

  9. I’m about done with argumentation. I demand EVIDENCE; testable, verifiable evidence. I’m tired of people blowing smoke rings and expecting other people to jump through the hoops. Without solid evidence, what the hell are we arguing about?

    For 2,000 years, no one has been able to present testable, verifiable EVIDENCE for even the existence of their “Lord and Savior”; just fake relics, forgeries, poorly edited and inconsistent “documents”.

    Ad Hominim attacks happen because they have no EVIDENCE to point to and they have run out of reasonable arguments.

  10. I completed my master’s degree in near eastern studies at Cornell under the late Martin Bernal, author of “Black Athena.” It is generally understood that Western civilization comes from the Greeks, and the Greeks started by themselves, also known as “the Greek miracle”. Bernal accepted the first part of this but not the second, arguing in agreement with the ancient Greeks themselves that Greek civilization came from Egyptian and Near Eastern origins. Bernal contrasted what he called the “Ancient Model” (Greek civilization from Egypt) versus what he called “the Aryan Model” (post-19th century prevailing mainstream today). His work was a three-volume trilogy. Volume I was history of scholarship, arguing that the “Ancient Model” (Greek civilization from Egypt) was erased by 18th and 19th century classicists for racist, Eurocentrist reasons and replaced with the idea that Greek civilization started by itself. Bernal acknowledged that because an idea is born in sin does not mean it is incorrect (the ad hominem fallacy), and he cited examples. Bernal also acknowledged that classicists today (who hold the “Greek miracle” idea) are largely politically liberal. Therefore his Volume II attempted to argue for a modified form of the Ancient Model as in fact correct on the basis of ancient evidence. His Volume III, which he produced after I knew him, dealt with historical linguistics and the Greek language.

    Classicists’ reaction to his Volumes II and III was extremely negative. Many classicists think Bernal’s Volume I (history of scholarship) is largely accurate (i.e. 19th century racism in the history of classics scholarship), but his Volumes II and III were hit hard. Bernal was an outsider to classics. He was a Sinologist (study of China). He was an academic, just not in the field whose cherished verities he was in a gentlemanly civil manner politely intent on demolishing. But Bernal was not entirely an outsider: his maternal grandfather was Sir Alan Gardiner, the great Egyptologist. Bernal liked to tell of how he told his grandfather he was going to study Mandarin, the language used in China. His grandfather, expert in Egyptian hieroglyphics, could not understand why Martin wanted to study “such an obscure language”. At Cornell Bernal had a position in the Government (political science) department.

    Bernal was probably near the top of “most hated” in classics circles. In person Bernal was completely soft-spoken and gentle, always the British gentleman in public discourse (Bernal’s father, Thomas Bernal, was a famous UK scientist who was also involved with high-profile left-wing politics in the UK). The problem was not in Bernal’s personality but rather: the content of Bernal’s arguments; that he wrote books accessible to the public making his scholarly arguments; and that he was an outsider, a non-classicist. Also, his labeling the mainstream paradigm “the Aryan Model” did not help matters either.

    To illustrate how fierce the reaction was to Bernal from classicists, the week after I signed Bernal to be my m.a. advisor, a review of Bernal’s Volume II appeared in the New York Review of Books likening him to the Devil. These reviews had a line drawing caricature portrait of the book author, the custom in that publication. Bernal’s line drawing caricature portrait had him with devil’s ears–Spock pointed ears–and the review itself, written by a leading classicist, after going through why Bernal’s work was fatally flawed because of a, b, c, the review ended by quoting lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost describing Lucifer’s hubris in challenging the throne of God, as a metaphor for Bernal rising up to attack the truths of classics and western civilization. Bernal replied that if he was Lucifer in the citation of Milton, who were classicists in this analogy? (Classicists who agreed with the reviewer thought they were God, was his point.)

    Bernal was a great advisor in person. He talked to me about the “sociology of scholarship”. Two examples of outsiders changing fields in ways missed by insiders that he talked to me about were the decipherment of Linear B, and Jane Jacobs’ work which revolutionized city planning. Both are now mainstream in those fields. A third example would be my mentor Thomas Thompson, emeritus professor at the U. of Copenhagen. In the mid-1970s Thompson’s PhD at Tubingen was failed after he wrote a dissertation arguing that Abraham was not historical, by no less than the former pope, Benedict, at the time a professor at Tubingen, on the grounds that “no Catholic can write this and expect to get a degree”. Thompson’s dissertation was published in North America but received initially scorching negative reviews, with Thompson unable to find a position in the semi-closed-network of academic jobs in North America–but over a ten-year transition period Thompson’s argument became accepted and mainstream, to the point that some younger academics today are unaware that the Hebrew Bible field ever thought differently. Thompson was not exactly an outsider but since he had not obtained a PhD (aka “union card”) or yet had successful publications he was not yet an insider either.

    My theory on how the sociology of scholarship works in humanities disciplines or subdisciplines such as biblical studies or related, is that there tend to be a few leaders, senior figures with extensive respected publications and prestigious positions, producers and placers of students in jobs, high reputation. For the most part, younger scholars and academics look to them for general guidance while pursuing their own technical work. What happens when a younger scholar produces a serious argument actually challenging something fundamental (as distinguished from competent technical work developing incrementally some aspect in line with existing knowledge, which is the most common and far safer path to academic success)? What happens depends on how the leading senior figures of that field react to it. If one or more heavyweights speak favorably of it, then it can be discussed. If this does not happen, and if the challenge is publicly criticized by the same for inevitable weaknesses and/or mistakes, then it will be marginalized. It will be heard and engaged only after one senior leader tells the rest of the field in print “this is OK to consider, this is OK to be listened to.” The ideas, if interesting, will be discussed freely and informally and may even find traction among younger scholars, but there is a carefulness among younger scholars about putting anything into print that is not ready to be fully defended, especially if it favors a controversial theory that has not yet received high-level approval from an existing, senior leader in the field. This description is oversimplified but this is what I have noticed.

    To apply this to the present case, Jesus mythicism (with which I do not identify myself incidentally, but I find the probings of interest as opposed to threatening) will be considered acceptable to discuss publicly within the scholarly guild only when one recognized senior New Testament field heavyweight says publicly, in effect, this is OK to discuss and consider. Lower-level or lower-status academics who do so will not cut it, though they may personally be tolerated as outliers.

    1. #1 Thanks for that backstory
      #2 “Jesus mythicism will be considered acceptable to discuss publicly within the scholarly guild only when one recognized senior New Testament field heavyweight says publicly, in effect, this is OK to discuss and consider.”

      True, but this process is proving far more ridiculous than it should. Doherty put forward a very reasonable case back in the 1990s and look where we are now. And really, when you look at the history of it, the case has been put forward in various similar forms since the mid-1800s. Always with similar, yet unsatisfactory reactions.

      This is why, IMO, the approach now is to bypass the academics and go straight for popular audiences. Right now the academics are playing the ignoring game. They don’t need to address the case because their position is the assumption, so as long as they ignore it and say its not worth looking at they don’t have to engage with the material.

      Their argument is the as that of the consensus position on things like intelligent design or climate change or whatever, i.e. that engaging with the proponents of the alternative view just gives credence to the view, so best to just dismiss it and ignore it.

      However, in this case (unlike most other such cases) it is the consensus view that is in trouble and they can’t actually easily refute the opposition view.

      So I’m dedicated to taking the case to the public and ignoring the academics, because it’s clear that they have no interest in honest engagement.

      1. I think there are good indications that the general public are increasingly aware of the general proposition that Jesus may be a myth, with many of those aware of that general proposition also aware of some of the other propositions.

        I’m not sure if the academics are playing the ignoring see and hear no evil game, or are seeking to play the speak no evil game.


        ‘it is the consensus view that is in trouble’,

        I also think the views that (a) ‘the consensus view’ should predominate and (b) the arguments to consensus are in trouble too (you probably meant that, but there are a few subtle dimensions to it all).

        1. “I think there are good indications that the general public are increasingly aware of the general proposition that Jesus may be a myth”

          No way. Where I’m from (NE TX) it’s as strong as ever. They believe it all. Even a talking donkey. 🙂

          1. My immediate thought was “Typical, Texas is mistaken for the entire US, and the US is mistaken for the World.” Check your parochialism. 🙂

      2. Yes R.G.

        Go for it!

        You do have a critical eye and you are sounding quite “prophetic” or critical, as real prophets do, of the prevailing culture of biblical contexts and studies across cultures…

        There are many wise words you have, no matter how painful or troublesome, which will hopefully bear some fruit in this very unwholesome atmosphere we are living in today.

        We are all waiting, at least in my our imaging of some future as well, when it will be “OKay” as well… to have a different take or interpretation or whatever when it comes to trying to figure out very tough texts, and still have to come down at least somewhere solid with the vast critical tools at our disposal in discerning what on earth is going on in these texts!! Whether literal or whatever!

        It is about what a text is doing and what it is seeking to accomplish… sorry I’m a big fan of J. L. Austin in linguistic theory.

        There is so much emotional, political, psychological, scientific, historical, etc, etc. etc in these texts…Why is this?? (What do you think folks??,, and Neil, if you have any old blogs that can provide a little more thought about this, let us know. Thanks!

        I don’t except a lot of the dismissal by atheists who don’t really care about the Bible at all… from my experience on this site I have pretty well met others who in their own ways “love” these texts and are highly interested in them, and I don’t think, to harm them, (my word…!! they are ancient texts.. that’s it!!!). Nothing is at stake if you don’t always get the so-called final and ultimate interpretation. If I have to go through a theology or Bible exam when I meet “god” I will tell him to stick it up his ass because it is so damn petty to damn people to eternal suffering over some different hermeneutical twist.

        Hermeneutics is important and has implications for this life, not some other, and it doesn’t matter much for any after-life. These texts were not written to us!! Is everyone listening?? The danger is in assuming and having these alleged final texts become the final and sole authority in your life.

        We must face these texts on their own terms and tell the rest what we find in these texts in critical, thoughtful, and responsible ways !

        This is integrity and honesty,, and I don’t want to be in a heaven where everyone has the same right interpretation for eternity. Fuck that business!!!

        So I won’t make it to heaven or don’t want to make it to some conformity prison of a heaven! Oh my god, my lord….(poetic of course) I couldn’t imagine something like that or even would want to conform. to ..

        and even if I like Jesus’ brazen freedom , which Paul accentuates, not as a historical person (only in a story) but “a spirit” he encountered along his “way” in the wilderness!

        When I was a Christian back then, I still preached subversively the freedom of everyone to think and act freely within the rational and empirical bounds of the Christian worldview.

        We are here right now.. We must not regress but progress into real worlds where we will be able to sustain our species and world.

        There is only us as far as we know at this point in the world. Let us hope we can sustain ourselves and our children into the future.

        One can see the Catholic strangle-hold on interpreting the scriptures freely – loosed from their own imaging and interpreting…2 Pet. is trying to control all that Pauline perversity affecting the flocks… and he takes swipes at Pauline gnostics with his Petrine gnosis– a big word and concept in Peter as well…. But this author is setting himself up as the final arbiter of true “prophecy” and “myth”, even though he borrows or steals from others,,, not just the NT but Jude as well, and perhaps vice versa.

        Please note again… to all readers here…the Myth of having met the Anointed One , etc. as 2 Peter polemicizes is quite interesting. 2 Pet. is as late as 2nd cent till the 4th!!!! by shcolars!! I am not totally on board with it all but that causes problems for conservative scholarship. The text notes the presence of “myths” that he is combating…And then in a weird hermeneutical twisting which he accuses Paulinists of doing…l!!! In Chapter 2 and 3…He draws on other “myths ” both Jewish and Greek and other sources inter-textually.

        I have no clue what is ahead, despite my own intimations, which may mean nothing, but we are headed for some real dead-ends soon, and we really need some new evidence that may well shatter many of our own confident notions…

        I hope for progress, though it seems distant in many ways…We just want to move forward… and it is tough for everyone concerned about what we have all been talking about here…

    2. This. I’m looking at Bernal’s three volumes as I type. Volume II has actually fallen apart and I should replace it. Ultimately I think he probably outreached the evidence (of the moment, I’ll stress. It could well be later research vindicates him reaching beyond his grasp; as it did with Galileo.) but that was hardly his fault I think; his work is a monumental tour de force for an individual. If only his opponents had been as willing to engage his arguments as he was to engage their’s in Black Athena Writes Back his work would have been the better for it. Unfortunately, ‘Black’ has different connotations in an American context and Americans have a particular difficulty with seeing the world except from their own perspective it seems. It would probably have been taken the wrong way even if there hadn’t been the ‘Stolen Heritage’ thing going on in and amongst Black schools and scholarship. I won’t scare-quote the last; this was another group ploughing its own furough without a sympathetic and uncondescending critique to correct it; and that understandably saw White scholarship as the enemy. Bernal was on another level entirely. Am I wrong in seeing quite a bit of his work seeping in unacknowledged?

  11. I have been following this website for quite some time. I have not commented because I don’t feel myself qualified to offer any useful remarks on the usually deeply informed and knowledgeable articles. I have logged on now simply to express my appreciation for all Neil’s and Tim’s work, and to say that I hope to keep learning from them, and from other authors and commenters, for some time to come.

  12. I’m not sure when this blog began so this may be a bit off base.

    The background fact is that christianity is in decline. So are a number of other organized religions. The number of “spiritual but not religious” is on the rise, which means that these people are not turning from organized religion to atheism either.

    When a belief system is threatened by a loss of members, the remaining members do tend to circle the wagons and shoot at anything that looks even vaguely threatening.

    1. Someone said, “When a person claims to be not religious but spiritual, it’s the same as a person saying that “I don’t play sports but I’m an athlete”.

      For me the question of religion is academic. I am an atheist until there is such concrete and credible evidence that I should change my perspective.

      Neil, as the Viagra salesman said to his client, “Keep up the good work.” 😉

  13. I read vridar daily and have truly treasure the insights revealed not just in the articles, but by so many of your commenters. I’m agnostic on historicism vs mythicism, but I’ve come to feel that the latter is at the very least a defensible position in general. I hope you and Tim continue to enlighten your readers for many years to come. Best~

  14. “Anytus and Miletus may put me to death, but they cannot harm me.” –paraphrasing Socrates in Plato’s ‘Apology’ (Epictetus, “Enchiridion'”)

  15. Go back at least as far as Plato and you hear him complaining about the very same state of things with his allegory of the cave, right? Such as it ever was…

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I once thought about going into academia. After having seen how much complete BS exists in departments that chokes out sincere intellectual pursuits, I’m very glad I didn’t go that route. For whatever it’s worth, I’m glad you’ve decided to further your intellectual curiosity and share your findings on this blog. It’s one of the better resources I’ve found over the years that speaks to the very same questions I’ve pursued on my own during my life. Hope you don’t get too discouraged. For some of us it’s impossible to conform to socially acceptable fictions even if giving in would award you accolades, popularity, fame, fortune, or whatever. Some of us couldn’t respect ourselves if we were willing to sell out our intellectual integrity for that mess of pottage. Thanks for all the hard work you’ve done over the years to bring us content.

  16. Well, so many encouraging responses. Thank you everyone.

    Just to comment on two specifically:

    Jeff Q, I accept that there is room for disagreement over the “minimalist” perspective (I don’t like the term “minimalist” since it would appear to reduce what are “normative” approaches to historical inquiry into other fields to something approaching a far-end or extreme-ish position in biblical studies) but I have the impression that that perspective is at least debatable, it is allowed to be presented formally if only to be challenged by others, despite some very emotional responses of some of those still standing against it. Applying the same sorts of methods (adapted for certain differences in the source material) in biblical studies opens up the question of the necessity for a historical Jesus to explain the evidence and New Testament studies appears to be further away from that stance than ever.

    Greg D, it is interesting that the voices of highly regarded scholars in the area of the OT have spoken out (most directly was Philip R. Davies) — but of course that voice comes from the wrong testament. Jim West, for one, has expended much energy praising the memory and work of Philip Davies, but not one hint at his very blunt statement calling for NT scholars to be open to the question of the historicity of Jesus; and Jim continues to react irrationally and unprofessionally against anyone or any suggestion that mythicism should be given any time of day at all. Yes, I am sure you are right about the “politics” of the academy. The Chomsky model, of course, would predict that in such an ideological field as NT studies no-one would rise to the position of such influence who had the “wrong thoughts” on that topic under normal circumstances. There is always hope, though, especially if the question can be directed primarily to a public audience. It is clear that a good many, including some leading intellectual lights in other fields, are open to the question. Surely a new generation will eventually arise ….

    Thanks again, everyone. I’m kind of overwhelmed. Yes, I am in a very fortunate position to be able to engage with the resources and to have the opportunities to do this, though those circumstances are not necessarily ideal, I try to make the most of the hand the gods have dealt me.

    1. Right Neil, someone outside the NT field, no matter who they are, is irrelevant, will not change the dynamics.

      Vridar is consistently thought-provoking, well-informed, and asking the right questions. There are intelligent, thoughtful comments and commenters regularly offering productive discussion. Books and publications are covered with a range of perspectives with attempts at fair and accurate representation of others’ arguments and content (where there are occasional and inevitable missteps on that I notice Neil making corrections and apologies where warranted, which wins points with me). Please carry on.

      1. What I have the biggest problem with is the clear expression of vicious, abusive tone and language. I suppose on one hand I can understand people being intimidated by such words, but surely the tactic is obvious. One would like to think that there must be enough back-room talk about the real nature of such blatant attempts at intimidation, but …. I don’t understand. Maybe there simply aren’t enough people who enter that particular field for any purely intellectually honest motive. Why would anyone with a valid and serious bent bother?

  17. I appreciate your feelings.

    I remember when I enjoyed my exchanges with McGrath. He seemed like a pleasant fellow who I might enjoy meeting someday. Now, every time I venture a comment, I am dismissed as a dogmatic agnostic, unwilling to understand the things I read.

    Of course, the scale of the abuse that I have faced pales in comparison to what has been heaped on you. I am glad to see that you are able to keep on an even keel.

  18. This is the first place I read when getting up and the last before going to bed, and even with that, I can’t help but take a peak during the day. I’d be lost without this place.

  19. May I add a clarification? I try not to leave people “scorned and dismissed with contempt”, actually. But some ideas are rubbish.

    By the way I read your remarks about your background. As one of nature’s misfits myself, let me say that I doubt that I would have liked your religious upbringing either. I had the good fortune to avoid it all.

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