2019-07-26

Understanding the Hostility to the Christ Myth Theory

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by Neil Godfrey

Questioning the historical existence of Jesus attracts something other than mere curiosity or intellectual debate among many biblical scholars and some of the public who don’t even have any personal interest in religion. I can understand people with a personal faith in Jesus either simply ignoring the question with disdain or amusement or responding with some hostility. (One would have to be gauche indeed to even raise the question with them.) But some of us have been mystified by some people, not scholars, who proudly identify as atheists, who can be found to react with visceral invective towards those questioning the historicity of Jesus. Similarly among biblical scholars. Even the non-believer Bart Ehrman dismisses “mythicists” as animated by dishonest motives and culpable ignorance.

The answer to that question, at least in my own mind, is now as clear as daylight. Many of us internalize the values and ideology of society’s established intellectual class.

And in fact, most of the people who make it through the education system and get into the elite universities are able to do it because they’ve been willing to obey a lot of stupid orders for years and years—that’s the way I did it, for example. Like, you’re told by some stupid teacher, “Do this,” which you know makes no sense whatsoever, but you do it, and if you do it you get to the next rung, and then you obey the next order, and finally you work your way through and they give you your letters: an awful lot of education is like that, from the very beginning. Some people go along with it because they figure, “Okay, I’ll do any stupid thing that asshole says because I want to get ahead”; others do it because they’ve just internalized the values—but after a while, those two things tend to get sort of blurred. But you do it, or else you’re out: you ask too many questions and you’re going to get in trouble. (Chomsky, 236)

(I use Noam Chomsky’s Understanding Power as the structure for this post because a fellow ex-Worldwide Church of God member reminded me of it in his book of his experiences in that cult, Showdown at Big Sandy. The author, Greg Doudna, spoke of many attempts that both he and a colleague, Russell Gmirkin, made to address doctrinal questions with the hierarchy.)

Some lay people who have been through much of the education system have even gone to such an extreme that they even justify the ruling powers who forced Galileo to recant! Tim O’Neill, author of History for Atheists, is perhaps the best known for this authoritarian stance. Questioning “the consensus of experts” is a sign of arrogance:

* The complaint that a questioning and critical analysis of orthodox views amounts to a “lack of understanding” of them has a long heritage. Back in the days of Galileo and Descartes the rector of the University of Utrecht deplored challenges to the expert consensus views of his day in the following words (1642):

First, it is opposed to the traditional philosophy which universities throughout the world have hitherto taught on the best advice . . . Second, it turns away the young from this sound and traditional philosophy and prevents them reaching the heights of erudition; for once they have begun to rely on the new philosophy and its supposed solutions, they are unable to understand the technical terms which are commonly used in the books of traditional authors and in the lectures and debates of their professors. . . . And lastly, various false and absurd opinions [follow], opinions which are in conflict with other disciplines and faculties and above all with orthodox theology.

(Voetius’s letter to Father Dinet, quoted in Cottingham, 395)

Then analogy [between creationists and mythicists] is not to the degree or nature of the evidence. It’s the lack of understanding* of the material and the arrogance of assuming they know more than the consensus of experts that is analogous. So the analogy is completely apt thanks. (Oct 2, 2018)

The same atheist critic even goes so far as to defend the consensus of the intellectual elites embedded in the Catholic Church against Galileo!

[T]he Church’s opposition to Galileo and heliocentrism was primarily based on this clear scientific consensus. (https://historyforatheists.com/2018/07/the-great-myths-6-copernicus-deathbed-publication/)

Galileo received high praise and encouragement from the Pope down. . . . It was not until Galileo strayed into theological questions with his widely-circulated “Letter to Castelli” in 1615 that the Inquisition began to take an interest in him (https://historyforatheists.com/2018/08/sam-harris-horrible-histories/)

O’Neill elaborates with a citation of a letter by Cardinal Bellarmine that superficially suggests that he was ready to call for a study into revising church doctrine if the new views in astronomy proved true, but overlooks the fact that the Holy See itself flatly rejected such “liberalism” and that Galileo was in branded a heretic for his heliocentric view that contradicted the Bible. (O’Neill following even says Galileo was not charged with “formal heresy” without identifying the source of that term or explaining how “formal heresy” differed from “heresy” per se. Nor should one overlook the words of Galileo’s contemporary, Descartes, who expressed fear for himself at the news of Galileo’s trial. See green side box.)

So we see here a crusade for “better history” by a lay non-historian, an atheist, who cherry-picks quotations and rationalizes submission to the consensus of intellectual elites all the way back to the seventeenth century. Now that’s ‘internalization of the university elite’s values’!

On hearing of Galileo’s fate Descartes wrote in a personal letter, 1634:

Doubtless you know that Galileo was recently censured by the Inquisitors of the Faith, and that his views about the movement of the earth were condemned as heretical. I must tell you that all the things I explained in my treatise, which included the doctrine of the movement of the earth, were so interdependent that it is enough to discover that one of them is false to know that all the arguments I was using are unsound. Though I thought they were based on very certain and evident proofs, I would not wish, for anything in the world, to maintain them against the authority of the Church. I know that it might be said that not everything which the Roman Inquisitors decide is automatically an article of faith, but must first be approved by a General Council. But I am not so fond of my own opinions as to want to use such quibbles to be able to maintain them. I desire to live in peace and to continue the life I have begun under the motto ‘to live well you must live unseen’. . . . For I have seen letters patent about Galileo’s condemnation, printed at Liège on 20 September 1633, which contained the words ‘though he pretended he put forward his view only hypothetically’; thus they seem to forbid even the use of this hypothesis in astronomy. For this reason I do not dare to tell him any of my thoughts on the topic. Moreover, I do not see that this censure has been endorsed by the Pope or by any Council, but only by a single congregation of the Cardinals of the Inquisition; so I do not altogether lose hope . . .

(Kenny, ed. pp. 42f. The message sent to Descartes was that Galileo was not even permitted to teach his view as an unproved ‘hypothesis’, contrary to the weight O’Neill assigns to Cardinal Bellarmine’s apparent statement otherwise. Still, as can be seen from D’s conclusion, he continued to hope for better days.)

Surely we have here a credible explanation for the vociferous backing of the “mainstream scholarly consensus” among certain lay persons, atheist or otherwise.

But there is more than years of indoctrination and internalization of such values.

And there are many other subtle mechanisms which contribute to ideological control as well, of course . . . .

Or just take the fact that certain topics are unstudiable in the schools—because they don’t fall anywhere: the disciplines are divided in such a way that they simply will not be studied. That’s something that’s extremely important. . . .

Well, these [corporate controls of political systems and national resources, including national populations] are major phenomena of modern life—but where do you go to study them in the universities or the academic profession? That’s a very interesting question. You don’t go to the economics department, because that’s not what they look at: the real hot-shot economics departments are interested in abstract models of how a pure free-enterprise economy works—you know, generalizations to ten-dimensional space of some nonexistent free-market system. You don’t go to the political science department, because they’re concerned with electoral statistics, and voting patterns, and micro-bureaucracy—like the way one government bureaucrat talks to another in some detailed air. You don’t go to the anthropology department, because they’re studying hill tribesmen in New Guinea. You don’t go to the sociology department, because they’re studying crime in the ghettos. In fact, you don’t go anywhere—there isn’t any field that deals with these topics. There’s no journal that deals with them. In fact, there is no academic profession that is concerned with the central problems of modern society. (239-242)

And ditto for the study of the question of the origin of the Jesus figure. New Testament scholars study Christology and the different views of the Jesus figure in the various sources, but they take for granted as their starting position that such a historical figure did exist. Hence in 2012 Bart Ehrman was able to confidently write:

Odd as it may seem, no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived. To my knowledge, I was the first to try it (Ehrman 2012)

Before commenting let’s finish Chomsky’s words:

And it’s extremely important that there not be a field that studies these questions—because if there ever were such a field, people might come to understand too much, and in a relatively free society like ours, they might start to do something with that understanding. Well, no institution is going to encourage that. I mean, there’s nothing in what I just said that you couldn’t explain to junior high school students, it’s all pretty straightforward. But it’s not what you study in a junior high [course] . . . .
(Chomsky, 242)

Daniel Gullotta

Simon Gathercole

It is at this point that we find an explanation for a type of response by the Ehrmans, the McGraths, and others against mythicism. I am talking about the default targeting of personal motives, even personal morality and character, of proponents of the Christ Myth view. Equally depressing is that these accusations are coupled with bizarre distortions, misrepresentations, blatant “misunderstandings” of the mythicist arguments. Recall the somewhat bizarre reviews of mythicism by Daniel Gullotta and Simon Gathercole in scholarly Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus for biblical scholars. (The general public can read one of its articles if they are prepared to pay $US30 — per article — for the privilege.) We saw how both Gullotta and Gathercole [see side box for references] clearly felt free to not pay any serious attention to the arguments they believed they were discussing and gross misrepresentation was par for the course. Compare:

MAN: What I’m struck with in each of the . . . major misunderstandings that are used against you. . . . is how much your views have been distorted and oversimplified by the press. I don’t understand why you’d want to keep bringing these ideas to the mass media when they always insist on misrepresenting them.

[Chomksy:] But why is that surprising? First of all, this is not happening in the mass media, this is happening in the intellectual journals. And intellectuals are specialists in defamation, they’re basically commissars [Soviet officials responsible for political indoctrination]—they’re the ideological managers, so they are the ones who feel the most threatened by dissidence. The mass media don’t care that much, they just ignore it, or say it’s crazy or something like that. In fact, this stuff barely enters the national media; sure, you’ll get a throwaway line saying, “this guy’s an apologist for this that and the other thing,” but that’s just feeding off the intellectual culture. The place where it’s really done is inside the intellectual journals—because that’s their specialty. They’re commissars: it’s not fundamentally different from the Communist Party. (Chomsky, 206)

“It’s the ideology, stupid!” It is easy to be dismayed (as I know I have been) at the utter “disunderstanding” of the arguments they say they are addressing. But notice that there’s another explanation:

But if any of you have ever looked at your F.B.I. file through a Freedom of Information Act release, you’ve probably discovered that intelligence agencies are in general extremely incompetent—that’s one of the reasons why there are so many intelligence failures: they just never get anything straight, for all kinds of reasons. And part of it is because the information they get typically is being transmitted to them by agents and informants who are ideological fanatics, and they always misunderstand things in their own crazy ways. So if you look at an F.B.I. file where you actually know what the facts are, you’ll usually see that the information has some relation to reality—you can sort of figure out what they’re talking about—but by the time it’s worked its way through the ideological fanaticism of the intelligence system, there’s been all sorts of weird distortion. And that’s true of the Anti-Defamation League’s intelligence too.

But this stuff certainly is circulated around—like, probably somebody in this area received it from the regional office, and there’ll be some article in the local newspaper tomorrow that’ll pull a lot of junk out of the file, that’s what usually happens when I go places. And the point is that it’s used to close off the discussion: since they can’t deal with the issues, they’ve got to close off the discussion—and the best way to do it is by throwing enough slime so that maybe people will figure, where there’s smoke there’s fire, so we’d better not listen.

. . . But there are plenty of others who do the same sort of thing—because this is really the institutional task of the whole intellectual community. I mean, the job of mainstream intellectuals is to serve as a kind of secular priesthood, to ensure that the doctrinal faith is maintained. So if you go back to a period when the Church was dominant, the priesthood did it: they were the ones who watched out for heresy and went after it. And as societies became more secular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the same controls were needed: the institutions still had to defend themselves, after all, and if they couldn’t do it by burning people at the stake or sending them to inquisitions anymore, they had to find other ways. Well, over time that responsibility was transferred to the intellectual class—to be guardians of the sacred political truths, hatchet-men of one sort or another.

So you see, as a dissident, you shouldn’t be surprised to get all of this stuff done to you, it’s in fact a positive sign—it means that you can’t just be ignored anymore. (207f)

In the Worldwide Church of God the best method of control over mere bottom-rung members was to simply ignore their insights that they might forward to their leaders. That was easy because the power representative at any particular place simply had to tap an intellectually curious member on the shoulder and warn him to “keep it to himself — no discussion with anyone else!” If a member did go public and address the wider audience that member was immediately branded as an agent of Satan himself and any contact with that person would risk eternal damnation. (Yours truly was one such “victim”.)

Chomsky’s offers some good advice and encouragement:

WOMAN: You’re really not discouraged by the fact that your work almost never gets portrayed accurately to the public or reviewed in a serious way by the press?

No, not at all—and we really shouldn’t get discouraged by that kind of thing. Look, I am not expecting to be applauded by people in editorial offices and at Faculty Clubs—that’s not my audience.
(Chomsky, 208)

Earl Doherty “put the Christ Myth” question before the public from around the turn of this century. He was treated like dirt for his efforts. He attempted several times to engage the biblical scholars but was rebuffed each time either by disdainful silence or some of the ugliest of insults. I think Chomsky’s lesson would be to forget the biblical scholars and continue to address the public. Let them decide who has the intellectual integrity in how serious questions are addressed. I was only persuaded to lean towards the mythicist argument after I attempted to address key questions with those New Testament scholars and learning that, on the whole, they preferred to denigrate a person’s character and clearly misrepresent the issue at hand. That sort of response is a sure give-away.

Tale of two students

Norman Finkelstein

Well, one graduate student at Princeton, a guy named Norman Finkelstein, started reading through the book. He was interested in the history of Zionism, and as he read the book he was kind of surprised by some of the things it said. He’s a very careful student, and he started checking the references—and it turned out that the whole thing was a hoax, it was completely faked: probably it had been put together by some intelligence agency or something like that. Well, Finkelstein wrote up a short paper of just preliminary findings, it was about twenty-five pages or so, and he sent it around to I think thirty people who were interested in the topic, scholars in the field and so on, saying: “Here’s what I’ve found in this book, do you think it’s worth pursuing?”

Well, he got back one answer, from me. I told him, yeah, I think it’s an interesting topic, but I warned him, if you follow this, you’re going to get in trouble—because you’re going to expose the American intellectual community as a gang of frauds, and they are not going to like it, and they’re going to destroy you. So I said: if you want to do it, go ahead, but be aware of what you’re getting into. It’s an important issue, it makes a big difference whether you eliminate the moral basis for driving out a population—it’s preparing the basis for some real horrors—so a lot of people’s lives could be at stake. But your life is at stake too, I told him, because if you pursue this, your career is going to be ruined.

Well, he didn’t believe me. We became very close friends after this, I didn’t know him before. He went ahead and wrote up an article, and he started submitting it to journals. Nothing: they didn’t even bother responding. I finally managed to place a piece of it in In These Times, a tiny leftwing journal published in Illinois, where some of you may have seen it. Otherwise nothing, no response. Meanwhile his professors—this is Princeton University, supposed to be a serious place—stopped talking to him: they wouldn’t make appointments with him, they wouldn’t read his papers, he basically had to quit the program.

By this time, he was getting kind of desperate, and he asked me what to do. I gave him what I thought was good advice, but what turned out to be bad advice: I suggested that he shift over to a different department, where I knew some people and figured he’d at least be treated decently. That turned out to be wrong. He switched over, and when he got to the point of writing his thesis he literally could not get the faculty to read it, he couldn’t get them to come to his thesis defense. Finally, out of embarrassment, they granted him a Ph.D.—he’s very smart, incidentally—but they will not even write a letter for him saying that he was a student at Princeton University. I mean, sometimes you have students for whom it’s hard to write good letters of recommendation, because you really didn’t think they were very good—but you can write something, there are ways of doing these things. This guy was good, but he literally cannot get a letter.

He’s now living in a little apartment somewhere in New York City, and he’s a part-time social worker working with teenage drop-outs. Very promising scholar—if he’d done what he was told, he would have gone on and right now he’d be a professor somewhere at some big university. Instead he’s working part-time with disturbed teenaged kids for a couple thousand dollars a year. That’s a lot better than a death squad, it’s true—it’s a whole lot better than a death squad. But those are the techniques of control that are around.

(Chomsky, 245f)

Thomas Thompson, author of The Messiah Myth and co-editor of “Is This Not the Carpenter?”: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus.

When I first began this work, I had been so convinced of the historicity of the tales about the patriarchs in Genesis that I unquestioningly accepted parallels that had been claimed with the Late Bronze Age family contracts found in the excavations of the ancient town of Nuzi in northern Mesopotamia. It was therefore all the more upsetting when, in 1969, after more than two years’ work, it became clear that the family customs and property laws of ancient Nuzi were neither unique in ancient Near Easternlaw nor implied by the Genesis stories. Many of these contracts had been misread and misinterpreted. At least one contract had been mistranslated with the purpose of creating a parallel with the Bible. The entire claim of Nuzi parallels to the patriarchal customs had been a thinly veiled
fabrication, a product of wish-fulfilment. An entire social world had been created which had never existed.

This led to a discussion of the larger question of history and the patriarchs generally. I went on to review the central arguments that had been used to create and support the patriarchal period. The single most important argument had been a very complex ‘Amorite hypothesis’, asserting a nomadic migration of West Semites out of the Arabian desert, which disrupted the established agricultural civilizations of the fertile crescent late in the third millennium BCE and developed new settlements from Southern Mesopotamia to the Egyptian Delta. This related nearly every important text find from the third and second millennium to the Bible and to Palestine: whether from Ur, Babylon, Mari, Amarna, Ugarit, Egypt, Phoenicia, or from Palestine itself. These arguments for Amorite migrations and for the existence of a patriarchal period in the history of the ancient Near East also collapsed. They were often arbitrary and wilful. Scholars had taken for granted what they set out to prove. What was presented as the assured results of decades of science and scholarship amounted to careless assertions.

The dissertation was finished in late 1971. Reactions to it were strong. I found it impossible to get my PhD in Europe or to publish my book in the United States. As things worked out, the book was eventually published in Germany in 1974 and I was able to receive my degree from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1976.

The arguments against the historicity of the patriarchal narratives were strongly confirmed by the independent publication in 1975 of the Canadian scholar John Van Seters’ Abraham in History and Tradition. . . . It was now clear that the previous confidence in the view that the Bible was an historical document was collapsing. Widespread doubt was expressed about the historicity not only of the patriarchs of Genesis, but of the stories about Moses, Joshua and the Judges as well. . . .

In 1975, I left Germany and returned to the States. The controversies over my book on the patriarchs shut me out of university teaching. I became a full-time house-painter and handyman. My weekends and evenings were given to the study of Old Testament narrative and the Pentateuch. After nearly a decade of such isolation, my exclusion from the field reached an unexpected end. I was appointed by the Catholic Biblical Association as annual professor to the École Biblique in Jerusalem for 1985. The climate of biblical scholarship had shifted. . . .

(Thompson, xiif)

It’s a long leap from a non-historical Abraham to a Jesus of questionable historicity.

 


Chomsky, Noam. 2002. Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. Edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel. New York: New Press.

Cottingham, John, ed. 1992. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Descartes, René. 1984. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: Volume 3, The Correspondence. Edited by Anthony Kenny. Cambridge University Press.

Doudna, Greg. 2006. Showdown at Big Sandy: Youthful Creativity Confronts Bureaucratic Inertia at an Unconventional Bible College in East Texas. Null edition. Bellingham, Wash.: The Scrollery.

Ehrman, Bart D. 2012. “Did Jesus Exist as Part One.” The Bart Ehrman Blog (blog). May 5, 2012. http://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-exist-as-part-one-for-members/.

O’Neill, Tim. 2018. “PZ Myers and ‘Jesus Agnosticism.’” History for Atheists (blog). September 29, 2018. https://historyforatheists.com/2018/09/pz-myers-and-jesus-agnosticism/.

O’Neill, Tim. 2018. “Sam Harris’ Horrible Histories – History for Atheists Sam Harris’ Horrible Histories History for Atheists.” August 19, 2018. History for Atheists (blog). August 19, 2018. https://historyforatheists.com/2018/08/sam-harris-horrible-histories/.

O’Neill, Tim. 2018. “The Great Myths 6: Copernicus’ Deathbed Publication.” 2018. History for Atheists (blog). July 13, 2018. https://historyforatheists.com/2018/07/the-great-myths-6-copernicus-deathbed-publication/.

Thompson, Thomas L. 1999. The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel. New York: Basic Books.


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Neil Godfrey

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25 Comments

  • 2019-07-26 12:39:29 GMT+0000 - 12:39 | Permalink

    As famous and as respected as Chomsky is, to this very day you will not see him on mainstream media, or not often, or at least not in the US (I realize you are in Australia, see below). You may be interested in the following, from a letter by Chomsky written to me, dated Jan. 11, 1980, regarding the gatekeeping function of U.S. institutions. He is referring here specifically to “the ideological character and constraints of the press [in the US]”. He writes, “This morning, I spent an hour on British commercial television discussing the significance of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan–which is not unusual; I’m often on radio and TV in Canada, Australia, UK, continental Europe, Japan. But it could hardly happen in the US.” I realize your point is broader, but I post to show how Chomsky has been concerned with this gatekeeping function for a long time.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-07-26 22:56:52 GMT+0000 - 22:56 | Permalink

      You too. The man’s not only a polymath and prodigious in publishing but — how the hell does he manage to reply to strangers like us (yeh, I got an email reply some years back from him, too).

      I did a post grad course in philosophy of education and later found that everything I had learned was summed up by Chomsky in just a few pages with his discussion of education’s gatekeeper function. Chomsky’s earliest schooling was with a progressive Deweyite school. I once taught in the state high school system and will never forget a new student who joined a class after likewise having had some years in the same kind of Deweyite school. He certainly stood out. (Even before he entered the classroom it was obvious he could not see the sense of “lining up in an orderly line” and waiting for the go-ahead to enter.) One had to be prepared to be challenged on any and everything. The experience really drove home just how much our system is designed to instil conformity of both behaviour and thought.

      He’s controversial here, too, but yes, he does get a more prominent hearing when he does visit us from time to time. That’s partly because of our national public broadcasting system does not shut him out by default. But it’s interesting that he was interviewed on British commercial television.

      It is refreshing to hear him say something ignorant from time to time when talks about something he’s clearly never studied in depth, like religion.

  • Sergio Silva
    2019-07-26 12:57:15 GMT+0000 - 12:57 | Permalink

    “So we see here a crusade for “better history” by a lay non-historian, an atheist, who cherry-picks quotations and rationalizes submission to the consensus of intellectual elites all the way back to the seventeenth century. Now that’s ‘internalization of the university elite’s values’!” History for atheists in a nutshell. 😁

  • Robert Jase
    2019-07-26 14:18:22 GMT+0000 - 14:18 | Permalink

    So everyone is brainwashed and everyone is wrong? Goo. Now we can move on to important arguments like, is the Loch Ness Monster a pleisiosaur.

    • Tim Widowfield
      2019-07-26 15:28:00 GMT+0000 - 15:28 | Permalink

      The point is not brainwashing, at least not in the classic cold-war spy sense. It’s a deliberate act, albeit second nature. Everyone knows where the land mines are; they just don’t talk about it.

      In the NT world, Neil and I have noticed that the valiant heroes sent out to attack the barbarians at the gate tend to be younger, marginally competent scholars. When Bart had to go out and do the same, his half-hearted attempt betrayed a lack of interest and a palpable resentment at being forced even to discuss the matter.

  • 2019-07-26 16:03:20 GMT+0000 - 16:03 | Permalink

    This is a big part of why “amateurs” are the ones having to take up this mantel. We don’t have the baggage.

  • DW
    2019-07-26 22:35:09 GMT+0000 - 22:35 | Permalink

    The members of the official guild want to shore up their power and privilege. You can’t let members of the unwashed masses demonstrate that they can be as informed and intelligent (if not moreso) as you when you sacrified so much of your time and effort getting a degree and establishing an official place in the academy. I think academics feel especially threatened today when it’s easier than ever for regular people to access information. Higher ed is very hierarchical, and I think many academics fear the democratization of knowledge. Why should somebody who didn’t “pay their proper dues” in the academy be allowed to challenge tenured profs of stature?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-07-26 23:10:33 GMT+0000 - 23:10 | Permalink

      Yes, there is a tension among academics that is becoming increasingly visible with social media — the tension between those who fully support the open access to knowledge and those who are horrified by democratization of information. Some of this tension is fueled by the commercial publishers of academic works.

      On the other hand, however, that tension does not necessarily equate with the gatekeeper question. To take biblical scholars as an example, we see Larry Hurtado wanting to share his learning online through his blog but at the same time he wants to control it in such a way that only those who see eye-to-eye with his views (okay, there’s some leeway but it is limited) are approved to comment. He can also use his blog as a public venue for the gatekeeping task of character attacks on those who ask the wrong questions or demonstrate an unhealthy preference for reading the “wrong books”.

      So the open sharing of knowledge can also come with the fiery darts of public humiliation aimed at those who don’t accept or learn from what is shared in the “correct” way.

  • 2019-07-26 23:27:28 GMT+0000 - 23:27 | Permalink

    Writing as an amateur historian, I must say that this article was extremely timely. As I lay in bed this morning, wondering why it was nearly impossible to get scholars to at least consider some of the data I have found, I came across Neil’s post. It was a complete confirmation of what I have run into for years; the unwillingness of the scholarly gatekeepers to objectively analyze the historical data. Their responses have varied from; “Self-righteous assessment…” (by a mythicist and atheist radio host, no less), to:”Too much of a stretch,” (by a noted NT scholar, archaeologist and professor at a well known university, to:complete and demeaning silence from nearly every other NT scholar, biblical historian, Christian apologist, etc. The complete lack of critical analysis skills and/or the total immersion into Christian tradition by scholars is astounding.

    You would think that data regarding the Greek tekton from an article in the 1913 Jewish Encyclopedia designating tekton as a reference to the specially trained priests responsible for building the Jerusalem temple might just create some academic interest since it poses the suggestion that Jesus and his father were both priests.

    You might also imagine that the archaeological find of an ossuary that names Jesus as a son of the high priest Caiaphas might elicit even more interest.

    Or that the Josephus reference to Jesus ben Ananias should be re-examined since Ananias is the lengthier version of Annas, the high priest Annas from the Gospels and might refer to Jesus’ maternal grandfather.

    Or that since Jesus sweated blood, any other reference to an ancient character who also sweated blood (Aseneth) might be a clue to some connection between them.

    Or that within the Babylonian Talmud at Chagigah 14b-15a when ben Zoma discusses with other wise men how a high priest might impregnate a virgin without resorting to intercourse, that that might encourage scholars to determine if ben Zoma was making derogatory insinuations against Jesus’ parentage at a time when early Christians were leaving behind their Jewish brethren in the face of the bar Kokhba Revolt.

    But you would be wrong. These data points have been largely ignored by modern scholars.

    There is an historical Jesus and he was the military priest that was expected of the messiah.

    The Gospels are propaganda and like most propaganda, they were written during the lifetime of their subject when they had meaning. They seem mythical in many respects because they were written under Roman occupation. Just as the French underground didn’t post their names and addresses under Nazi occupation, so the writer of the Synoptics didn’t get too specific about Jesus and his real family. There is an allegorical layering to the Gospels that provides some protection for their true intent; a plausible deniability hiding the actual rebellious nature of Jesus’ message. Many of the parables can be matched to historical events, ie the Gadarene demoniac is actually an allegory about the forced populating of Tiberias by Antipas. Note the use of: Legion, swine, chained in a cemetery, etc. The Tenth Fretensis was used to enforce the population from leaving Tiberias, a city built on an ancient graveyard and therefore ritually unclean for Jews. The Tenth’s mascot? A wild boar. Jesus was saying what he would do to the Roman soldiers guarding Tiberias.

    So there is much to recommend an historical Jesus if critical analysis is used and there is much to condemn about modern scholarship for becoming so dependent upon Christian tradition that it has been unable to critically analyze the historical data.

    Thanks, Neil for the article. As I said, it confirms what I have suspected for many years.

  • 2019-08-03 19:04:27 GMT+0000 - 19:04 | Permalink

    Neil,

    My above comment referring to historical data that points to a real, historical Jesus has been up for a week and yet no comments from you.

    Are you guilty of the very thing this post refers to, namely a vast conspiracy by the historical Jesus community of scholars to suppress the truth by ignoring it?

    Certainly, an historical Jesus who was a well known rebel would close the book on mythicist theories and to an even greater extent, close the book on Christian tradition.

    So, Neil, no comment?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-08-04 00:53:14 GMT+0000 - 00:53 | Permalink

      Hi David, I have not responded to every comment here, nor, I am somewhat ashamed to say, have I read every comment that has been posted here. Sometimes real life gets in the way and I mean to get back to comments but but the time I see the way to do that I sometimes find I am at a loss to know where to begin again, and wonder if interests have moved on among commenters anyway.

      But there is no suppression of the idea that there was a historical Jesus, nor do I see any suppression of a wide range of interpretations of what that historical Jesus was like. If your particular interpretation of the historical Jesus is not accepted or repeated by others then it might be an idea to ask why your particular interpretation and inferences from the data do not appear to be accepted.

      When I first began asking questions about the historicity of Jesus and the arguments against his historicity I was doing just that, taking one point at a time and asking the scholars in the forums what the arguments were point by point, or observing others doing that. That was where my education on the question really started, I think. Until then I had merely read different viewpoints but had not engaged with particular points in a discussion situation.

      • 2019-08-04 16:47:55 GMT+0000 - 16:47 | Permalink

        Hey Neil,

        Thanks for your reply. It is greatly appreciated.

        My original post to you citing some historical data about Jesus was intended to elicit from you and your readers exactly what you recommend; asking for a response from non-scholars what you and they thought of these ideas. My points were composed as questions because I wanted input from you about their possible veracity in recording events in the life of the historical Jesus.

        I have been in touch with: James Tabor, Bart Ehrman, Jodi Magness, Gary Habermas, Richard Carrier, and others and have repeatedly gotten the same results: either dismissive comments (“too much of a stretch…”) or complete silence. So the wished for results that you indicate should be my next step don’t exist, hence my comment on your post about the article on gatekeepers. Something can only be too much of a stretch if there is already a firmly entrenched position (namely Christian tradition). If there was no traditional view, the data that I point to would be deserving of scholarly interest and attention. Even mythicists share the same entrenched views of the Gospels, as I have seen Carrier propose much of his theory based upon his literal reading of the Gospels rather than the deeper allegorical views that I propose.

        So it has been a very frustrating struggle to get the kind of feedback necessary to properly analyze my theory. I was hoping that through Vridar I might see some objective responses to my proposition. That would certainly be helpful, since as yet, I have been unable to engage the appropriate scholars on the issue.

        It’s not too much of a stretch if the historical data backs it up.

        Thanks again, all best regards.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-08-07 03:31:01 GMT+0000 - 03:31 | Permalink

          Hi David

          Can I just take two points to begin to address why your argument may not have elicited the responses you hoped for?

          First, you write: You would think that data regarding the Greek tekton from an article in the 1913 Jewish Encyclopedia designating tekton as a reference to the specially trained priests responsible for building the Jerusalem temple might just create some academic interest since it poses the suggestion that Jesus and his father were both priests.

          What is the actual data here? I don’t have the 1913 Jewish Encyclopedia so don’t know what the data is. Who applied the term tekton to “specially trained priests responsible for building the Jerusalem temple” and when did they do this? Did the term have the same application to persons in the time of Jesus and when the gospels were written? What is the source for this particular meaning of tekton? How does the inference drawn from this data (that Jesus was a special kind of priest) compare with inferences drawn from other data? Example: https://vridar.org/2010/04/02/how-jesus-became-a-carpenter/ ? Is there any supporting evidence that Jesus was a priest? Presumably tektons (if a special kind of priest during the construction of the temple) did not have to belong to the tribe of Levi.

          These are the sorts of hurdles that immediately come to mind when we propose that the reference to tekton in the gospels likely suggest Jesus was a priest. These problems need to be addressed in such a way as to make your proposal a compelling explanation.

          Second, you write: You might also imagine that the archaeological find of an ossuary that names Jesus as a son of the high priest Caiaphas might elicit even more interest.

          Yet the name Jesus was the sixth most common name in Palestine, following hard on the heels of John. (See https://vridar.org/2017/12/29/could-a-common-name-like-jesus-really-be-a-name-above-all-names/#names ) So we need more than that ossuary inscription to justify a conclusion that it refers to the Jesus in the gospels.

          So far, those first two inferences (drawn from a use of tekton and the name Jesus) are based on speculation and neither has firm clear evidence to point to the conclusion that Jesus was a priest. The notion is speculative inference in both cases. Two speculative inferences are not stronger than one :-). In fact, the more speculative inferences we put together the more amazing but precarious our house of cards becomes.

          Hope that gives some idea why I think your suggestion has not been taken up by others.

          • 2019-08-07 20:21:42 GMT+0000 - 20:21 | Permalink

            Hey Neil,

            Thanks.

            As you no doubt know, any historical research of events before the modern age are based upon the reconstruction of historical data. The idea being that the reconstruction of events based upon the best available data that best explains those events is the most likely or accurate reconstruction. In the historical Jesus field, this is true of mythicism, apologetics, and Christian tradition. So my original data points, by themselves, may mean little, but they should at least elicit some curiosity among scholars and others interested in the historical Jesus. They are pieces of the puzzle of the historical reconstruction.

            Take for example tekton. While the source for this interpretation (the Jewish Encyclopedia), that Jesus and his father may have been specially trained priests working to build the Temple, may be strong or weak doesn’t matter as much as does the idea that Jesus and Joseph may have been priests. What does that idea do to our understanding of Jesus and his father and are there other bits of data that may support or refute this idea? And of course, there are many other bits of data, other puzzle pieces, that support that idea, in fact, too many to have included in my original comments to your blog.

            For example, the term ‘shepherd/s’ is used over twenty times in the NT and in each and every case, except one, it is meant to convey someone in a leadership role, either of the early church or of the local population. Philo categorically refers to the term as a euphemism for leadership of local communities, and flocks as a euphemism for the local population. The one time in the NT it is not used for those groups is Jesus’ nativity. So statistically, we could infer that the shepherds at Jesus’ birth might not be husbandmen, but rather leaders of the local populations. Speculation? Sure, but another puzzle piece that seems to indicate that along with the frankincense, gold and myrrh, the shepherds and wise men were men of some distinction paying homage to the birth of someone of prominence, not some poor carpenter’s son. Does this statistical evidence automatically refute the possibility that the nativity shepherds were just that? No, but taken together with other evidence from the nativity story it is more likely that shepherds refers to men of prominence rather than goat or sheep herders.

            Then too, we have Jesus’ seemingly miraculous knowledge of the Torah and husbandry, etc., miraculous for a poor carpenter’s son maybe, but not so much for the son of a priest destined to be high priest. Jesus’ knowledge was based upon his education, something beyond what would have been available to a carpenter’s son.

            Then we have the Miriam ossuary. The argument that Jesus was a common name in that time and place is an old ploy by apologists to avoid looking at or accepting the truth that Jesus’ family was from the priesthood and that Jesus had a daughter. The statistical frequency of a given name does not refute anything. It is just an observation. Just because Jesus was a common name does not mean that the Jesus of the ossuary could not be the Jesus of the Gospels. It requires greater examination which is not being done. So the Miriam ossuary is another puzzle piece.

            When 12 y/o Jesus is found on the Temple steps teaching other priests and teachers, when confronted by his parents he states, “…where else would I be but at my father’s house?” He is speaking of his father the priest and the temple where he works, not of God. The Temple priests, his fathers co-workers, as it were, took care of Jesus during the five days that he was left alone in Jerusalem, exactly as you might expect for a child left alone in a city by his parents. He went to his father’s place of work and was taken care of by the other priests. Another puzzle piece.

            As high priest, Caiaphas would have been in control of the Temple guards. This would explain why, when their only duty was to preserve the peace on the Temple grounds, they did nothing to stop Jesus when he attacked the money changers. He should have been arrested immediately. Caiaphas told the guards to do nothing when Jesus, his son, showed up. Another puzzle piece.

            Josephus writes of one Jesus ben Ananias or Jesus descendent of Ananias. Ananias is a longer version of Annas, the high priest of the Gospels. Annas was the father in-law to Caiaphas. If Caiaphas was indeed Jesus’ father, Annas was Jesus’ maternal grandfather, so Jesus ben Ananias would have been the Jesus of the Gospels. Another puzzle piece.

            In the work Joseph and Aseneth, Aseneth is portrayed as the daughter of a high priest. Aseneth is a theophoric from Neth/Neith the Egyptian virgin mother goddess. The work is an allegorical account of how Joseph and Mary met, and how Joseph converted her to his religious views. The story uses Egypt as a metaphor for Judea. Within the work, Aseneth sweats blood while under duress, just as Jesus does, making for some kind of connection either philosophically or genetically between the two. So Aseneth is associated with a virgin mother goddess and she sweats blood just as Jesus does and she is the daughter of a high priest, all the same as I believe Mary is portrayed historically. Another piece of the puzzle.

            Mary’s ‘virgin pregnancy’ by God was a cover story for the fact that Caiaphas as a high priest, had gotten her pregnant before they were married. See the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 14b-15a for a cynical discussion by ben Zoma on how a high priest might impregnate a virgin without intercourse. It is referring slyly and derogatorily to Jesus’ parents at a time when early Jesus followers were abandoning the Jews in the face of the bar Kokhba revolt. Ben Zoma and others obviously knew that there was something funny about Mary’s pregnancy and the idea that she was pregnant by God, but it was a great sin by Jewish law to cast direct aspersions against anyone without proof, so ben Zoma couched his derision of Jesus and his followers in a hypothetical case. Another puzzle piece.

            The three men most closely related to Jesus during his life were: Joseph, his father, Joseph Caiaphas, who condemned him, and Joseph Arimathea, who buried him. All three Josephs. Yes, Joseph was a common named then, but that does not necessarily refute the idea that all three Josephs were one and the same man. Another puzzle piece.

            Each one of these puzzle pieces is speculative in their association to the Gospel Jesus, but that is true in many historical reconstructions. Taken together, however, they form a picture that should be compelling to historical Jesus scholars if they are interested in finding the truth. I could write more, but this should be sufficient.

            So how many corroborating puzzle pieces do we have that Jesus was a poor carpenter/builder? Two off hand comments in the Gospels: “…is not this Jesus, the tekton?” “…is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph the tekton?” (paraphrasing). Both Joseph and Jesus were from a non-existent town of Nazareth. If they were indeed builders, why not move to where the work was available, say Sepphoris, which apologists say was being built during their lifetimes?

            And how much actual corroboration for a mythical Jesus do mythicists have? None. You can’t have corroborating evidence for a myth. You can only have speculation and ancillary data, like my theory. All the mythology used by Carrier and others to support their view of a mythical Jesus was available to a real, historical Jesus and his father, which they could have used to embellish his stature; son of God, dying and rising hero, etc. Jesus and Joseph were educated men and as such they were no doubt familiar with those same legendary accounts and put them to good use in the Gospel stories.

            It should be remembered that the Gospels were written a) during Jesus’ political life and b) under Roman occupation (which most scholars do not credit highly enough) and that anything written of a subversive nature could lead to death for the author. So the Gospels, as political propaganda, had to be written in allegorical terms thereby hiding their true intent from the Romans and disguising their leaders behind plausible deniability. So the idea that Paul doesn’t mention any historical facts about Jesus and seems to make him a mythical character is in keeping with the idea that Paul, as an agent of Rome, was trying to alter Jesus’ message from one of rebellion to one of peace and acceptance at a time when political tensions in Judea were on the rise before the Jewish Revolt of 66ce.

            Neil, I have written similar letters as this one here to the scholars I mentioned before, with no real, scholarly response. If the ideas presented here have failed to interest others, it is only because the others are too firmly entrenched in their own views to objectively analyze the historical data.

            All best regards

            • Neil Godfrey
              2019-08-10 00:39:12 GMT+0000 - 00:39 | Permalink

              Mark, you have not addressed the criticisms I set out but instead repeated and added more of the same logical flaws that I criticized. You are not basing your inferences on the data but are basing your inferences on speculations arising from the data. The data says tekton referred to special priests, you say (I still don’t know the actual data but am taking your word for it.) There is nothing in that data piece that suggests Jesus was such a tekton or that when tekton was applied to Jesus it had the meaning of a special priest. You spoke of statistics. How often does tekton refer to special priests compared with its more general application?

              You have taken a piece of data, or two pieces, and without any justification in the evidence itself simply imagined the connection you have proposed. You need then to test that proposal against other explanations. Otherwise you fall into the trap of confirmation bias. Looking only for more data pieces to “fit a puzzle” is how confirmation bias (and conspiracy thinking) works. Set out the alternative explanations and inferences, and compare. See if you can disprove your hypothesis.

              As you said, the original data points “may mean little”. They do. But you have created meaning by your imaginative inferences. That’s not how analytical historical inquiry works.

              You speak of the statistical use of the term shepherds. But your statistics are taken from a narrow range of the possible relevant sources. And your inferences contradict the details of the narrative that you are reading.

              But then you say that the narratives were written to protect the authors from undesirable consequences from the Romans. In other words, you have a closed system of reasoning. The evidence that contradicts your inferences is said to be “false” or explained away by another piece of speculation. And again, that same speculation is contradicted by the facts of what we know about authors and what they were able to write about in that time.

              You said we cannot have corroborating evidence for a myth. Of course we can — and do. Try to consider the criticisms of your method of interpretation and inferences and confirmation bias. You have set up an argument that is impossible to refute. Such arguments have no place in serious historical (or any empirical or scientific) inquiry. They are on a par with conspiracy theories.

              You say the only reason others don’t accept your arguments for discussion and consideration is that they are “too firmly entrenched in their own views”. No, most people I know who seriously look into the question are open to new ideas, but they may be entrenched in methods of scientific and sound logical inquiry that do not enable them to accept your suggestions.

              • 2019-08-10 20:12:45 GMT+0000 - 20:12 | Permalink

                Neil,

                This is Dave, not Mark, though I’ll assume your comments were directed at me.

                First, I thought I had answered your original comments, but in case I wasn’t clear, let me try again.

                1). I can’t seem to recover my records that the Jewish Encyclopedia article referring to Tektons indicated that the term was used for specially trained priests (I am woefully inadequate as far as organizational skills are concerned). No matter, though. It is historically accurate that there were specially trained priests who worked on the Jerusalem Temple, you agree? This work would have required a wide variety of crafts to be learned, from carpentry, to stonemasonry, etc. The Hebrew term for such workers would have been nagareem, especially in regards to carpenters. The Greek translation of the Hebrew was tekton. So we know, historically that there were Jewish priests referred to in the Greek as tekton working on the Temple. OK so far? So if within the Gospels (once in Mark 6:3 and once in Matthew 13:55), Jesus and his father were referred to by that term without any further elucidation, we might rightly wonder if they were members of the special group of priests who worked on the Temple. That is actual historical data with just a modicum of speculation, and as an historian, it is incumbent upon me to analyze that possibility, which I have done. Given a choice between the Gospel tradition of Joseph and Jesus being carpenters in a small village of perhaps fewer than 200 people at best or that they might be members of the priesthood, I subscribe to the latter because it fits much better and explains much better other questionable evidence (greater scope and greater power).

                In the Septuagint, tekton either stands for the generic Hebrew noun kharash/craftsman (Isaiah 41:7) or tekton xylon for kharash-‘etsim, craftsman of woods (Isaiah 44:13)

                Geza Vermes ( Jesus the Jew, 1983 , page 21) suggested that given that the use of the term in the Talmud, carpenter can signify a very learned man. The NT description of both Joseph and Jesus as a tekton could indicate that they were wise and well educated and literate in the Torah (which Jesus was in the Gospel account of the twelve year old teaching on the Temple steps). A.N. Wilson (Jesus, 2003. “The term translated into English as ‘carpenter’ represents the much wider sense of the ancient Greek, ho tekton, which is a rendition of the Semitic word ‘naggar’. As pointed out by the Semitic scholar, Gaza Vermes, this descriptive word [naggar] could perhaps be applied to a trade craftsman, but could equally well define a scholar.”) has suggested that Jesus had some sort of elevated status due to his connection to being a tekton. A basic carpenter in the First Century would have been very low on the social ladder since they did not generally own land and therefore could not provide food for their families.

                And while the Hebrew term naggar is not found in Aramaic documents of the New Testament period, it is found in later Talmudic texts where the term is used as a metaphor for a skilled handler of the word of God (Wikipedia; “Tekton”). Thus, the idea that Jesus and his father might have been regarded as more than simple carpenters has a much greater historical value than scholars admit.

                2). As I mentioned before, the statistical relevance of the name Jesus (sixth most common name in Palestine) refutes nothing and serves only as an observation. So it says nothing about whether or not the Jesus listed on the Miriam ossuary was or was not the Gospel Jesus. But as an historian, I am obligated to examine just such a possibility, and with the broader definition of tekton and that term’s connection to the priests working on the Temple, I have to consider that the Miriam ossuary could very well be speaking of the Gospel Jesus and that he could be the son of Caiaphas. So, I think that there is more than just the ossuary inscription to recommend a connection to the Gospel Jesus. Does that answer your question?

                As I tried to explain at the outset of this thread, researching historical events requires that we study the available data, both in content and intent, and propose a hypothetical construct of what that data means. So speculation is an important part of historical reconstructions. That IS the scientific method, Neil, and it is used by prominent historians and scientists the world over: analyze the data, speculate on its meaning and construct a hypothetical case that best serves the evidence, then test it. ALL historians do this, from Carrier to Habermas, so your argument against my methods of speculation is nonsense. Of course historians speculate. We’re dealing with incomplete data sources and what we do have is sometimes reliable and sometimes not. The reliability of the Gospels has been questioned for years, which leaves the historian with the task of trying to find the truth (or as near as we can get to the truth) out of incomplete and unreliable data.

                As for the “trap of confirmation bias” you refer to, confirmation bias actually refers to data one knows about but fails to include in their hypothetical construct because it refutes their theory. It is a sin by omission. It is not the collecting of corroborative data, as you suggest. A classic example of this is the work by Barrie Wilson and Simcha Jacobovici, The Lost Gospel. They either didn’t know or care that the name Aseneth was a theophoric taken from the Egyptian goddess Neth/Neith, which referred to her as the Virgin Mother Goddess, thereby linking Aseneth to Jesus’ mother, Mary. Also, they didn’t bother to include the connection between Aseneth and Jesus that they both sweated blood. These ignored data points took their speculation that Aseneth was a metaphor for Mary Magdalene and pretty much trashed it. That is confirmation bias; omit those things that do not support your case

                I have not ignored any of the historical data. What I have tried to do is re-analyze the data from a different starting point, sans Christian tradition. That’s exactly how analytical historical inquiry works. So for you to say that “In other words, you have a closed system of reasoning,” doesn’t make any sense. Does any historian think for a moment that the Roman occupation of the Middle East had no impact on the culture and writings of the Jews? Of course it did and with the attendant threat that anything written of a seditious nature could lead to the death penalty for the author. Jesus himself remarks throughout the Gospels that only a select few will truly understand his parables, indicating quite clearly that those works were written in allegory. If scholars contend that the Gospels were not strictly speaking history, biography, or fiction (which they generally contend) then what were they? My proposition is that they were political propaganda, which includes all of the above; history, biography, and fiction, written in allegory under Roman occupation.

                Maybe my arguments are “impossible to refute” because they are the truth. Tell me that Joseph and Jesus could NOT have been priests working on the Temple. Tell me that the Jesus on the Miriam ossuary could NOT have been the Gospel Jesus. Refute any other data point I’ve mentioned definitively. Neil, you are doing what other scholars have done; you’re attacking my methods and ignoring the data: You: “Such arguments have no place in serious historical (or empirical or scientific) inquiry.” Nonsense. You’re actually echoing and mimicking the negative sentiments about scholarly gatekeepers that was posed in the original article for this thread.

                “History doesn’t repeat itself—-historians merely repeat each other.” (attributed to Winston Churchill). ( Q&A: It’s scientists vs.the Historians; University of Illinois, Dept. of Physics, 2007).

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-08-11 00:23:52 GMT+0000 - 00:23 | Permalink

                Sorry about the name confusion, David.

                It is historically accurate that there were specially trained priests who worked on the Jerusalem Temple, you agree? This work would have required a wide variety of crafts to be learned, from carpentry, to stonemasonry, etc. The Hebrew term for such workers would have been nagareem, especially in regards to carpenters. The Greek translation of the Hebrew was tekton. So we know, historically that there were Jewish priests referred to in the Greek as tekton working on the Temple. OK so far?

                No, not okay. I don’t know that there were Jewish priests working on the temple as “tektons”, whether as carpenters or stonemasons.

                So if within the Gospels (once in Mark 6:3 and once in Matthew 13:55), Jesus and his father were referred to by that term without any further elucidation, we might rightly wonder if they were members of the special group of priests who worked on the Temple

                No. The first rule of any interpretation is context. The context of the use of tekton in the gospels opens for us no reason to wonder if it refers to temple priests at all. (Why would a temple priest be living in Nazareth for starters?)

                That is actual historical data with just a modicum of speculation, and as an historian, it is incumbent upon me to analyze that possibility, which I have done.

                First, I have not seen the data to justify your first claim. Secondly, the only data for the second is a narrative written some time between 70 and 140 CE by an unknown author in an unknown location for an unknown audience. However, a literary analysis of that narrative points immediately to a pun on the term relating to “mighty works” or miracles. Much later traditions suggest the tekton might be a metaphor for one with interpretative skills, but that’s only secondary compared to the data we are dealing with.

                The gospels are in Greek and there is no evidence to suggest that in this narrative we are looking at a story with an Aramaic or Hebrew source. The Greek tekton simply meant carpenter or such so that is our first interpretation of the word and there is no evidence to suggest it should refer to anything else. None.

                There is no justification for interpreting tekton in the gospels as a Jewish priest working as a carpenter in the temple. Did priests even work as carpenters or stonemasons there? I don’t know. But even if they did, what connection might that have with someone in Nazareth? And how does that compare with the strength of the significance of the word elicited through literary analysis — and a literary analysis has to be our first port of call so we know what is the nature of our data.

                Given a choice between the Gospel tradition of Joseph and Jesus being carpenters in a small village of perhaps fewer than 200 people at best or that they might be members of the priesthood, I subscribe to the latter because it fits much better and explains much better other questionable evidence (greater scope and greater power).

                There is no justification for the choice apart from speculation. There is no data to justify it. Only your “modicum of speculation” — for which there is no support in the actual data itself. That is not how historical investigation works.

                A historian will relate two pieces of data if there is something in one piece that connects to another. Mere speculation doesn’t do that. I know writings of Cicero relate to Julius Caesar because they mention Julius Caesar. I know Matthew relates to Mark because the very same passages are used in both. I know the Magna Carta relates to a rebellion by barons against the king because their names are mentioned in it. To tie different pieces together with “a modicum of speculation” is to think with the same processes as a conspiracy theorist.

              • 2019-08-11 23:15:01 GMT+0000 - 23:15 | Permalink

                Neil,

                Please do some research before you engage in disparaging someone’s comments. Seriously.

                Josephus; Antiquities of the Jews Bk 15, ch 11, verse 2 (390): ” [Herod]… chose out ten thousand of the most skillful workmen, and bought a thousand sacerdotal garments for as many of the priests, and had some of them taught the arts of stonecutters, and others of carpenters [in Greek:tektons], and then began to build,” (Whiston).

                The Gospels do not lend any context to determine what is meant by ‘tekton,’ unfortunately. However, since the term could refer to specially trained priests (see above), as an historian I am obligated to examine the possibilities. Could it refer to specially trained Temple priests? Yes. There is no reason to assume otherwise.

                There is much doubt by scholars whether or not Nazareth even existed. Suggest you read an article by Peter McKenna from your own blog, I believe, ‘Jesus Nazoraios: Hidden Truths Revealed?’ regarding the use of the term ‘Nazareth’. If Jesus and Joseph were ordinary carpenters, they probably would have moved to where the work was being done, Sepphoris. As carpenters, they would not have been tied to the land as farmers were, and so could have followed the work. Seems that you are very tied to Christian tradition on this one Neil. Nazareth is pure speculation on your part.

                Since according to most scholars, the Gospels are neither history, biography, fiction, or myth, they have to be something. They were written under Roman occupation and they were written as propaganda, which incorporates a little of all those categories. Propaganda is only useful during the lifetime of its subject or the lifetime of its movement. Which leads to the idea that they were written during Jesus’ political life; 24ce-c.37ce. The only reason scholars use the dating you use, 70ce-140ce is because in the Gospels Jesus refers to the destruction of the Temple in his prophecy. The Temple was destroyed by Rome in 70ce. However, that prophecy could have been a later addition to the Gospels or Jesus could have made the prophecy, as we all sometimes do in our own lives, out of anger and frustration. He didn’t tie the prophecy to Rome and scholars , like yourself, have continued to repeat this prophecy as a response to the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70. Again, your belief in Christian tradition and in Christian apologetics is showing.

                The Gospels have much in common with the writings of Philo of Alexandria. They are Jewish works, written in Greek with Latin titles. That’s exactly how Philo wrote his major treatises. I don’t know of any other ancient writers/philosophers that wrote in that way. 39 of his major works incorporated the use of allegory, whether in deciphering the OT or in other works. Mark is Latin for Marcus, from Mars the god of war, and Luke is from the Latin for Lucifer, the bringer of light (Jesus) and Matthew is uncertain since it was a Hebrew name or Greek or Latin. There are other similarities between Philo’s works and the Gospels. Philo was a contemporary of Jesus and went to the Jerusalem Temple at least once in his life. He could have known Jesus and Joseph.

                There is no reason NOT to interpret tekton as relating to Temple priests. That is pure speculation on your part. The point is not definitive, it is exploratory, and there is no reason not to analyze it as a possibility. You seem very intent on shutting down any further examination of the subject, which I find curious. Thank god not everyone has your burning curiosity or we’d all be living in the stone-age.

                Josephus makes it clear that there were specially trained priests working on the Temple and the Gospels give no context for their inclusion of the term regarding Jesus and Joseph. The only argument you have against it is ‘speculation.’ Well Neil, let me point something out to you. Everything you think you know about this subject is, in one form or another, speculation. The reason there are multiple denominations of Christianity is due to speculation. Every alternate theory to Christian tradition is due to speculation. Even Jesus indicated that his parables were open to speculation and interpretation and those parables were written in allegory which requires speculation as to their true meaning. So I don’t know what to tell you except that these things need speculation and analysis in order to determine the truth, if there is any.

                How do you know Eisenman’s conclusions are a ‘magnificent house of cards’? Or Atwill’s? You don’t know. You don’t know the truth. You’re just speculating.

                Are you a Christian or mythicist or something else?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-08-12 05:43:49 GMT+0000 - 05:43 | Permalink

                David, you disappointed me. I attempted to explain to you why your argument was not discussed by scholars. I pointed out its fallacious foundation. But I see now that there was a more fundamental reason, an inability to comprehend the fallacious nature of the argument when it is pointed out, and the inability to grasp the difference between speculation and interpretation, both indicated by a rather uncivil hostile response.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-08-11 00:36:48 GMT+0000 - 00:36 | Permalink

                Two others who base their theories on speculation are Joe Atwill (Caesar’s Messiah) and Robert Eisenman (James and Paul being the Teacher of Righteousness and the Liar in the DSS). Eisenman musters copious speculative connections to justify each point he makes to build his case, but they are all speculative and in the end his thesis is a magnificent house of cards. Different speculations can lead to myriads of different hypotheses. The safest path for a historian is to hew strictly to the data itself and justify every step with reference to details in the data itself, and to eschew speculation as far as possible, above all in the foundations of the hypothesis. Maybe speculation can enter at the end after all the hard work of building a firmly grounded (no speculation) case is done.

              • MrHorse
                2019-08-12 01:53:19 GMT+0000 - 01:53 | Permalink

                David Mirsch wrote, –

                The gospels … were written under Roman occupation and they were written as propaganda …/… Propaganda is only useful during the lifetime of its subject or the lifetime of its movement. Which leads to the idea that they were written during Jesus’ political life; 24ce-c.37ce …

                The fact they were written during the roman empire does not mean they were written under “occupation”. There is nothing to verify where or when they were really written, other than a tradition of long-standing assertions based on dubious ‘reasoning’.

                If they are propaganda, they are propaganda about a subject; and they clearly became popular long after the subject was said to have lived.

                The main known beginnings of the movement are the Eucumenical Councils beginning with the Council of Nicea in the early 4th century.

                The only reason scholars use the dating you use, 70ce-140ce is because in the Gospels Jesus refers to the destruction of the Temple in his prophecy. The Temple was destroyed by Rome in 70ce. However, that ‘prophecy’ could have been a later addition to the Gospels, or Jesus could have made the prophecy…out of anger and frustration.

                or both: Jesus could have been said to have made the prophecy after the fact.

            • Mark S
              2019-08-10 08:30:18 GMT+0000 - 08:30 | Permalink

              Is there evidence of the story about Ben Zoma and the magic copulation and the baths developing elsewhere? That it is in Bavli, just by itself, only means that it dates to some time before, or around, the Islamic conquest. Shäfer is anyway pretty convincing that the treatment of Jesus there is not to be studied as containing ‘memories’ of earlier times.

              • 2019-08-11 21:28:29 GMT+0000 - 21:28 | Permalink

                Mark,

                I am unfamiliar with Shafer’s work. Can you please send me your reference to this point?

                Also, I don’t know that Shafer (from what you say) would have included the ben Zoma remarks in his references to Jesus since I doubt that he would have recognized that in talking about a high priest, ben Zoma was actually referring to Jesus’ parents.

              • Mark S
                2019-08-20 16:32:40 GMT+0000 - 16:32 | Permalink

                David, I’m referring to Peter Schäfer ‘Jesus in the Talmud’, https://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Talmud-Peter-Sch%C3%A4fer/dp/0691143188 the standard reference.

                The tendency of the book is that references and allusions to Jesus are based on knowledge of the gospels and what local Christians are saying. He doesn’t use the b Hag 14b-15a material after the famous ‘four who entered’

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