Search Results for: allison circularity


2018-12-29

Simon Gathercole’s Failure to Address Mythicism: (#5)

by Neil Godfrey

The abstract to Simon Gathercole’s article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus begins

The present article seeks to show that the case for the mythical Jesus is seriously undermined by the evidence of the undisputed Pauline epistles. By way of a thought experiment, these letters are taken in isolation from other early Christian literature, and are discussed in dialogue with mythicist scholarship. (183, my emphasis)

Unfortunately it has been all too easy for me in the previous posts to demonstrate that Gathercole’s article has failed to engage in dialogue with mythicist scholarship, and that it instead seriously misrepresents the scholarship that it attributes to mythicism. We have seen that two points he claims undermine mythicism are

  • that “born of a woman” is a common expression as seen in the Book of Job and Sirach, an indisputable reference to the historicity of Jesus, and a phrase that can only be dealt with by a “trigger-happy” resort to interpolation;
  • that Paul recognized other apostles who had been preaching the faith of Christ before him, a fact that Doherty did not know.

I have demonstrated from the work of Earl Doherty (the same work that Gathercole cited) that both claims are false. On the contrary, Doherty

  • spoke of Paul’s recognition of other apostles before him preaching the gospel of faith in Christ; and
  • demonstrates that Paul has not used the common term found in the Book of Job or Sirach and has argued his case for mythicism on the understanding that the expression “born of a woman” is authentic to Paul and not an interpolation (Doherty’s argument that the phrase is an interpolation is a speculative “extra”).

One has to wonder how an article by a highly reputable scholar making such false claims could be accepted in a peer-reviewed journal.

When a reviewer of another’s work informs his readers that the work reviewed argues the very opposite of what it really does, then one has to surely question whether or not the reviewer ever read that work with any serious attention and why the reviewer would even bother spending time on such misleading articles.

We saw how Daniel Gullotta committed many similar errors in his review of Carrier’s work, failing to notice that Carrier did not argue what Gullotta claimed he did, and at other times Carrier did indeed say what Gullotta asserted he had not. We have seen similar falsehoods published in books by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey. (Again, all erroneous claims have been documented in posts on this blog.) If Simon Gathercole really had read Carrier’s book (I don’t mean just skimmed, pausing at selected pages here and there) then he would have known that Gullotta’s review fell a long way short of being

One of the best recent critiques [noting] some crucial weaknesses in Richard Carrier’s volume. (185)

(Anyone who is interested to know where Gullotta repeatedly failed to understand or even failed to read much of Carrier’s book that he reviewed should see my carefully documented critique.)

One of the main reasons I am writing these posts is to endeavour to point out to those scholars who are genuinely interested in engaging with mythicist arguments that so far they are not engaging with them at all, not even when they write criticisms for peer-reviewed journals, that more often than not they are advertising their ignorance of mythicist arguments even though they claim to have read their books in full. If mainstream scholars want to persuade members of the general public then they cannot rely upon ad hominem or careless misrepresentation. By doing so they are continuing to alienate themselves from those who have serious questions about the historicity of Jesus.

To put the matter beyond any doubt 

After his “born of woman” discussion Gathercole writes read more »


2018-12-03

Earl Doherty’s First Day with Biblical Scholars on Crosstalk Forum

by Neil Godfrey

I begin by repeating Earl Doherty’s maiden post to Crosstalk. I have colour coded different discussion threads. Links below are to the archive.org site where Earl’s Jesus Puzzle website is as it existed at the time of the Crosstalk exchange. For the current site see http://www.jesuspuzzle.com/jesuspuzzle/index.htm

I have decided to present this early conversation to allow readers to see the evidence and judge for themselves various claims that are made about the character of those early exchanges.

I was floored. Ridicule, outright insult, rude dismissal . . . all delivered with an air of smug superiority 

5011    The Jesus Puzzle

Earl D

Feb 9, 1999

On the weekend, Bill told me that he had brought the Crosstalk list’s
attention to my web site (Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle) and asked for
opinions. He sent me a selection of postings he had gotten in response. On
Monday morning, I resubscribed myself after an absence of a few months, and
read several more responses to Bill’s queries about my views and those of
other “mythicists”.

I was floored. Ridicule, outright insult, rude dismissal of any counter
argument, all delivered with an air of smug superiority that would do any
fundamentalist proud. Is this the discussion of reasonable and educated men
(I haven’t noticed any women yet), moving in the corridors of open-minded
investigation and an honest search for truth and understanding? Many of the
Crosstalkers identify themselves as members of university faculties, where
one assumes the standard is one of reasoned debate and basically courteous
discussion, even where contentious ideas are involved. Instead, the
reaction to Bill’s queries has been mostly that of snarling dogs incensed at
having their fireside chats disturbed by unorthodox inquiry. The ad hominem
attacks in several of those postings would be flattered by the word
“sophomoric”.

I was floored. Ridicule, outright insult, rude dismissal of any counter
argument, all delivered with an air of smug superiority that would do any
fundamentalist proud. Is this the discussion of reasonable and educated men
(I haven’t noticed any women yet), moving in the corridors of open-minded
investigation and an honest search for truth and understanding? Many of the
Crosstalkers identify themselves as members of university faculties, where
one assumes the standard is one of reasoned debate and basically courteous
discussion, even where contentious ideas are involved. Instead, the
reaction to Bill’s queries has been mostly that of snarling dogs incensed at
having their fireside chats disturbed by unorthodox inquiry. The ad hominem
attacks in several of those postings would be flattered by the word
“sophomoric”.

The theory that no Jesus of Nazareth existed at the beginning of the
Christian movement has been around for two centuries, championed by many
researchers in many countries over the years, some of them respected
scholars, long before Wells or myself. Outright “loony” ideas don’t usually
have that kind of shelf life. The myth theory is there, and refuses to go
away, and the fact that it exists in a charged field like religion does not
justify it being denied the respect it might deserve. After all, we would
surely condemn any physicist, any anthropologist, any linguist, any
mathematician, any scholar of any sort who professes to work in a field that
makes even a partial bow to principles of logic and scientific research who
insisted on ignoring, vilifing, condemning without examination a legitimate,
persistent theory in his or her own discipline. There are tremendous
problems in New Testament scholarship, problems that have been grappled with
for generations and show no sign of getting any closer to solution.
Agreement is lacking on countless topics, and yesterday’s theories are being
continually overturned. Scholarly commentaries are shot through with words
like “riddle”, “puzzling”, “insoluble.” Some documents are said to “lead to
despair.”

Sorry, I don’t mean to turn this into a lecture, but if any of you would
take an honest and open-minded look at some of my site you might find
material that would at least give some food for thought. Two members of the
Jesus Seminar, Darrell Doughty and Robert Price, were impressed enough with
it that they invited me to write an original article for their Journal of
Higher Criticism (out of Drew University). Both of them have brought up my
name and observations at Jesus Seminar meetings on a couple of occasions.
That Journal article appeared in the Fall 1997 issue, and is now reprinted
on my site. It would be a good intro to the essentials of the Jesus-as-myth
theory, particularly my own arguments for it, which differ substantially
from those of Wells in important respects. I’ll quote the direct URL for it
at the end of this.

I’ll also quote a couple of other articles on the site which I regard as
especially cogent. While I hardly claim to be an expert in every aspect of
biblical research (is there anyone here who would be that presumptuous?), I
would be willing to let a few of the efforts now on my site (my analysis of
Hebrews, for example, or my consideration of contemporary Platonism and
hellenistic mythological thinking (in Article 8) as it may shed light on
what Paul actually believed) stand beside anything produced in these
areas–always allowing for the fact that I’ve aimed partly for the
understanding of the general, uninitiated reader. Those of you who take the
trouble to look at them are certainly free to challenge me, hopefully with a
modicum of professionalism and common human decency.

One of the things that has struck me in reading responses to Bill is the
general lack of understanding even of the basic principles of the
non-existence of Jesus theory. This, of course, is due to the disdainful
and knee-jerk dismissal of the very idea which is commonly accorded it. It
seems to me that if you seriously want to cope with this stubborn theory
which refuses to go away and which is gaining wider currency even in the
general population (if you hadn’t noticed), you owe it to yourselves and
your discipline (I won’t say your confessional beliefs) to investigate the
matter a little more thorougly, so as to offer a more reasoned and effective
response to it.

What also surprised me was the rejection, or ignoring, by many of
well-established views within standard liberal scholarship, such as the
widespread rejection, or at least questioning, of the authenticity of 1
Thessalonians 2:15-16. Labelling this an interpolation is not exactly some
arbitrary crackpot idea of my own. Pearson is ably seconded by such as
Mack, Koester, Meeks and Brandon. One cannot simply ignore a body of voices
like that when seeking to heap scorn on myself. Another case is failing
even to acknowledge the view held by many (such as Norman Perrin, whom I
highly respect and regret the early death of) that Paul’s so-called “words
of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians are not a drawing on any body of Jesus’
earthly teaching in circulation, but are personal communications he believes
he has received from Christ in heaven, something postulated as a common
feature of the early prophetic movement. The same goes for the common
interpretation of 1 Cor. 2:8’s “rulers of this age” as referring to the
demon spirits (which is one of the cornerstones of my argument). Not even
to take such trends within one’s own discipline into account in one’s
arguments (even if you don’t agree with them) is hardly the mark of honest
and up-to-date investigation and debate.

Some of what was written by a couple of people against Bill was
unconscionable in a milieu that professes to be dedicated to reasoned and
scientific discussion of historical questions, and I am reminded of a
comparison I made to the fundamentalist J P Holding who attacked my views.
I called his attention to a short piece of music by the American composer
Charles Ives, called “The Unanswered Question.” Against a quiet orchestral
backdrop, a serene trumpet asks a musical question which a chorus of flutes
at first calmly and confidently answers, but when the questioner continues
to restate his query several times (evidently because the answer is
inadequate) the flute contingent gradually degenerates into nattering,
scoffing, sneering hyenas choking on their own scorn. (I recommend the
Leonard Bernstein performance.) I guess Ives’ flutes can be found just
about anywhere, and their snarling has often managed to drawn out many a
questioning voice.

Before they drown me out, on this listserver anyway, I’ll make a posting
or two in the next couple of days (nothing too long) to respond to a few
points raised by several of you. Jeff Peterson made the sole considered,
reasonable response, I think, and I’ll address him first, then add a few
things raised by others. I’m not overly determined to get into an extended
debate (especially on a daily basis), but if one develops I won’t engage in
anything which isn’t at least moderately polite. That doesn’t mean one
can’t be provocative and challenging, but some base level of decency and
respect can surely be expected and maintained.

And I hope Bill will continue to make his voice heard and give me some
support. It is sometimes an advantage to be outside a discipline and heavy
study in it, and evaluate something simply on the basis of one’s own
reasoning capacity and innate primal instinct.

Earl Doherty

The Jesus Puzzle: <http://www.magi.com/~oblio/jesus.html>
Article for the Journal of Higher Criticism: …/jesus/jhcjp.htm>
Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus? …/jesus/supp03.htm>
Article No. 6: The Source of Paul’s Gospel: …/jesus/supp06.htm>
Article No. 8: Christ as “Man”: Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person? …jesus/supp08.htm>

The solution is not necessarily peeling away the onion layers

5012    Re: The Jesus Puzzle

Jack Kilmon

Feb 9, 1999

Earl D wrote:

> The theory that no Jesus of Nazareth existed at the beginning of the
> Christian movement has been around for two centuries, championed by many
> researchers in many countries over the years, some of them respected
> scholars, long before Wells or myself.

Having been pretty busy lately, I have missed this thread and others’responses.
Since I am one of those to whom you refer with:

> It is sometimes an advantage to be outside a discipline and heavy
> study in it, and evaluate something simply on the basis of one’s own
> reasoning capacity and innate primal instinct.
>

Having reviewed the articles on your site, on the surface, there arethings with
which I disagree but will take the time to study the articles
(which I have printed) and respond on each of the 12 “pieces of the puzzle.”

At the very least, I agree..like most, that the historical Jesus is so
profoundly
overlain with mythological strata the germinal layer will never be fully
exposed. The solution to this, however, is not necessarily peeling away
all the layers of the onion, leaving nothing.

Jack

It is utterly UN-reasonable to suggest that Jesus did not exist.
5013    please….

Jim West

Feb 9, 1999

It is utterly UN-reasonable to suggest that Jesus did not exist. Such
silliness has no place on an academic list. Perhaps discussions of the
non-existence of Jesus belong on the same lists as discussions of UFO
abductions, alien autopsies, and the like. Indeed, a new list should be
started by those interested in such things and it can be called
“sci.fic.christianity.alt”

The net is filled with crackpots, loons, and various shades of insane folk
who spout their views and expect people to take them seriously. And when
they dont get taken seriously they get mad.

Sorry to sound a little irritated- but Bill and his “voice behind the
curtain” have simply repeated old junk which has been dealt with in the
history of scholarship already. Why must we reinvent the wheel every time
someone comes up with “a new idea or a new spin on an old idea”.

(oh yes, I have visited the web page advertised— very pretty- yet filled
with nonsensical non sequiters). Life is too short to rehash garbage.

Best,

Jim

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Jim West, ThD
Quartz Hill School of Theology

Hmmm…. Now this is bizarre reasoning

read more »


2016-12-15

Some preliminaries before resuming Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible

by Neil Godfrey

I originally wrote the following as an introduction to my next post on Russell E. Gmirkin’s new book, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible. On reflection, it was too long to be part of a post addressing the book so here it is a separate introductory post instead.

Our historically conditioned deafness to oblique [and not so oblique] allusions in the Bible can sometimes lead us to doubt their very existence. — The New Moses (1993) p. 18

That was written by Dale C. Allison when he was arguing that the evangelist who composed what we know as the Gospel of Matthew was inspired by the story of Moses when he composed his particular Jesus figure. If it is difficult for many readers to accept that the figure of Moses was woven into the lineaments of Matthew’s Jesus, how much more difficult might it be to accept that much of the Pentateuch and other works in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament were modeled on the literary, philosophical, political and cultural worlds of the Greeks?

If that sounds like too much to take in at first consider the following:

The Religious Tolerance website lists the following evidence for Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch:

There are about two dozen verses in the Hebrew Scriptures and one dozen in the Christian Scriptures which state or strongly imply that Moses was the author. Consider the following passages from the New Living Translation (NLT):

  • Passages in the Pentateuch itself:
    • Exodus 17:14Then the Lord instructed Moses, ‘Write this down as a permanent record…‘”
    • Exodus 24:4Then Moses carefully wrote down all the Lord’s instructions.”
    • Exodus 34:27And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write down all these instructions, for they represents the terms of my covenant with you and with Israel.‘”
    • Leviticus 1:1The Lord called to Moses from the Tabernacle and said to him, ‘Give the following instructions to the Israelites…‘”
    • Leviticus 6:8Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Give Aaron and his sons the following instructions…‘”
    • Deuteronomy 31:9So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests.”
    • Deuteronomy 31:24-26When Moses had finished writing down this entire body of law in a book…
  • Passages elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures:
    • Joshua 1:7-8…Obey all the laws Moses gave you.
    • Joshua 8:31-34He followed the instructions that Moses the Lord’s servant had written in the Book of the Law…
    • Joshua 22:5…obey all the commands and the laws that Moses gave to you.
    • 2 Chronicles 34:14…Hilkiah the high priest…found the book of the Law of the Lord as it had been given through Moses.
  • Passages in the Gospels which show that Jesus and John the Baptizer believed Moses to be the author:
    • Matthew 19:7-8…why did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?”, they asked. Jesus replied, Moses permitted divorce…‘”
    • Matthew 22:24Moses said, ‘If a man dies without children…‘”
    • Mark 7:10For instance, Moses gave you this law from God…
    • Mark 12:24…haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush…
    • Luke 24:44…I told you that everything written about me by Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must all come true.
    • John 1:17For the law was given through Moses…
    • John 5:46But if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me because he wrote about me. And since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?
    • John 7:23…do it, so as not to break the law of Moses…
  • Passages elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures:
    • Acts 26:22…I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen…
    • Romans 10:5For Moses wrote…

The earliest books of the Bible themselves tell us that they were written by Moses. See the side box for details. But we are not children so we do not blindly believe everything we read, although even children sometimes want to know how we know certain claims are true. The Book of Enoch testifies that it was written by the “seventh from Adam”/the great-grandfather of Noah and it was quoted faithfully in the New Testament (Jude 1:14 and elsewhere) as the true words of Enoch by the same kinds of people who believed Moses wrote the Pentateuch. The self-witness alone of any document or literature requires some form of independent testimony before we know how to interpret its historical value:

. . . . only in special cases does there exist a tradition about a given literary production independent of the self-witness of the literary production itself; and that the person who utilizes a literary-historical tradition must always first demonstrate its character as a historical document. General grounds of probability cannot take the place of this demonstration.

Those words are from an academic paper delivered in 1904 by E. Schwartz: cited in a 1991 chapter by Luise Abramowski titled “The ‘Memoirs of the Apostles’ in Justin” pp.331-332 published in “The Gospel and the Gospels” ed. Peter Stuhlmacher. If you want something more recent, try Philip R. Davies in his ground-breaking 1992 work, In Search of Ancient Israel. I have outlined his essence of his argument at The Bible – History or Story? Or if you don’t want to skip to another page then read on. Davies, himself a biblical historical critic, goes for the jugular of traditional biblical historical criticism when he writes of the circularity of its methods:

This circular process [that is, assuming a self witness of a document is true and then arguing the document is true on the basis of its self-witness] places the composition of the literature within the period of which the literature itself speaks. This is precisely how the period to which the biblical literature refers becomes also the time of composition, the ‘biblical period’, and the biblical literature, taken as a whole, becomes a contemporary witness to its own construct, reinforcing the initial assumption of a real historical matrix and giving impetus to an entire pseudo-scholarly exercise in fining the literature into a sequence of contexts which it has itself furnished! If either the historicity of the biblical construct or the actual date of composition of its literature were verified independently of each other, the circle could be broken. But since the methodological need for this procedure is overlooked, the circularity has continued to characterize an entire discipline—and render it invalid.

The panoply of historical-critical tools and methods used by biblical scholars relies for the most part on this basic circularity. (Davies, 1992, p. 37)

Anyone can write a story pretending its narrator really lived in a time long ago. This can be done for any number of reasons . . . Testing the claims of our sources is not hyper-scepticism: it is the most fundamental rule of historical inquiry.

In other words, anyone can write a story pretending its author really lived in a time long, long ago. This can be done for any number of reasons ranging from entertainment to philosophical or religious instruction. Every witness in a court of law is required to establish its credibility, first at the outset by pointing to verifiable independent external witness and/or then under cross-examination. That’s not “hyper-scepticism”. Testing our source documents is common sense and the most fundamental rule both of any form of detective work and historical inquiry. It is also fundamental to basic literary analysis and criticism.

Or even more recently, move forward to 2001 and Niels Peter Lemche’s chapter, “The Bible – A Hellenistic Book”, in Did Moses Speak Attic: Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Era:

It seems obvious to most scholars that our estimate of the age of a certain book of the Old Testament must be founded on information contained in the book itself and not on other information, and the estimate should certainly not be based on the existence of a historical background that may never have existed. Although seemingly self-evident, this method is not without fault, and it may easily become an invitation to ‘tail-chasing’, to quote Philip R. Davies. By this we intend to say that the scholar may soon become entangled in a web of logically circular argumentation which is conveniently called the ‘hermeneutical circle’ . . . .  Another point is that it is also supposed that the reading of a certain piece of literature will automatically persuade it to disclose its secrets — as if no other qualifications are needed.

The first point to discuss will be the circular argumentation that is based on a too close ‘reading’ of the biblical text. Here the first example will be the books of Samuel [containing the stories of Kings Saul and David]. Some assume that these books must be old simply because they say that they are old. The exegete who claims that the books of Samuel must perforce be old will . . . have to accept the claim of the books themselves by either rather naively assuming that Samuel could be the author (as the later Jewish tradition did proclaim) or by more sophisticated argumentation, for example, of the kind formerly often used to prove narratives like the ‘Succession Story’ to be old because only an eye-witness would have been acquainted with the particulars of the family of David.

How to escape this circularity?

In order to escape from the trap created by this circular method of argumentation and the rather naive understanding of the biblical text that lies at the bottom of such claims, it will be necessary to go further and find arguments not necessarily part of the biblical text itself but coming from other sources. Such information alone will be able to disclose to the reader that the books of Samuel were composed, not at the moment when Israel got its first king, but at a much later date. (pp. 292-94, my emphasis)

Scientific procedure or its reverse?

Although it has become a standing procedure in the study of the Old Testament [Gospels] to begin where we know the least and to end at the point where we have safe information in order to explain what is certain by reasons uncertain and from an unknown past, it is obvious to almost everybody else that this procedure has no claim to be called scientific. We should rather and as a matter of course start where we are best informed. Only from this vantage should we try to penetrate into the unknown past. (p. 294, my emphasis)

The Book of Daniel likewise claims to set in the time of the Babylonian empire but few critical scholars, I believe, would accept this narrative claim at face value. No doubt that’s mostly because this book gives the game away too easily by making prophecies that can be followed in our history books right up to the third century BCE. (There are historical anomalies that also betray the fiction, but alone I suspect that those anomalies would be “less persuasive” for many.)

So after the above preliminaries hopefully those for whom the idea that even the Pentateuch and other books in the Old Testament could possibly be late Hellenistic works appears to be outlandishly novel are a little more amenable at least to its possibility. I have presented aspects of the opening chapters of Russell Gmirkin’s Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible in previous posts; one more will follow soon.

 

 


2015-10-01

What Biblical Scholars Say About Historical Jesus Studies

by Neil Godfrey
Dale C. Allison (November 25, 1955-) is an American New Testament scholar, historian of Early Christianity, and Christian theologian who for years served as Errett M. Grable Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Early Christianity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is currently the Richard J. Dearborn Professor of New Testament Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. — Wikipedia (2nd Oct 2015)

historicalchristI like reading Dale Allison. He is open and forthright about his methods. When some biblical scholars indignantly insist that their field is faith-neutral (after all it includes atheists and agnostics and Jews!) and that they are as on the level as any other historians could possibly be, I wonder if they have ostracized Dale Allison from their community.

Allison acknowledges the circularity at the heart of historical Jesus arguments and that the Gospel narratives are largely midrashic parables. But he is a serious historian nonetheless (according to the lights of historical studies within theological circles) and does the best he can to know “the historical Jesus” despite the challenges thrown up by the nature of the sources:

Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned. (See Dale Allison on Memory and Historical Approaches to the Gospels)

In The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus Allison clarifies what he means by the above:

What matters is not whether we can establish the authenticity of any of the relevant traditions or what the criteria of authenticity may say about them, but rather the pattern that they, in concert, create. It is like running into students who enjoy telling tales about their absent-minded professor. A number of those tales may be too tall to earn our belief; but if there are several of them, they are good evidence that the professor is indeed absent-minded.

Dale C. Allison Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 839-841). Kindle Edition.

(Think that “historical method” through for a few moments.)

With thanks to Anthony Le Donne for alerting me to Dale Allison’s The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus here are a few more of Allison’s insights worthy of note:

I have never been without theological motives or interests. Until a few years ago, however, I had not attempted to pursue those interests with much diligence or to examine my motives with much care. Recent circumstances have pushed me out of my historical-critical pose. After accepting a teaching post at a Protestant theological seminary, I soon discovered that future pastors are not interested in undertaking historical labor without the prospect of theological reward. In order, then, to keep my audience, I was compelled to complement my critical inquiries with theological deliberations.

Dale C. Allison Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 20-23). Kindle Edition.

Don’t misunderstand. Dale Allison firmly believes he is professional enough to recognize (at least in hindsight) when his historical reconstructions of Jesus have been guided by theological interests as the following quotations will demonstrate. Before making those acknowledgments, however, he draws on his experiences in the wider field to recognize what his peers are also doing.

In recent years we have seen works by Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham arguing for the earliest “Christians” attributing to Jesus a very high divine Christology from the very beginning of their faith. If you have wondered if these professors might be influenced by their own conservative faith, Allison encourages your suspicions. He tells us we can also predict the personal beliefs of scholars who flatly reject any form of high christology:  read more »


2015-04-17

Unrecognized Bias in New Testament Scholarship over Christian Origins

by Neil Godfrey

From time to time someone – lay person or New Testament scholar – publicly insists that there is no more bias among the professional scholars of the Bible than there is among any other academic guild. The question arose recently on the Bible Criticism and History forum and I found myself scrambling quotations from members of the guild themselves to point out what surely is obvious to most outsiders. There are individuals who recognize in greater or lesser degrees just how bound in hidden bias on the question of the historical Jesus are the majority of their peers.

Of course most scholars will openly confess to acknowledging bias to some extent but in practice few appear to truly grasp the extent to which the historical Jesus question is grounded in interests that are not fully scholarly.

Here is the list that came most readily to hand.

Hal Childs, “Myth of the Historical Jesus

If interest in Jesus, whether historical or theological, has a strong, if not predominant, emotional dimension, this is usually not acknowledged, nor named as such. Emotion has a bad name in scholarship, and both methods and literary style have been designed to apparently exclude it from scholarly pursuits and results. If scholarship can be said to have repressed emotion, then, as Freud said, it returns in other forms, perhaps as ideology or dogmatism. It is always present as an invisible hand guiding interest, commitment, choice, judgement, and the framing of meaning. (p. 15)

Scot McKnight, “Jesus and His Death

Since I have placed Carr and Elton in the same category of modernist historiographer, I must add that many if not most historical Jesus scholars tend to make a presentation of Jesus that fits with what they think the future of Christianity holds, as E.H. Carr so clearly argued. While each may make the claim that they are simply after the facts and simply trying to figure out what Jesus was really like—and while most don’t quite say this, most do think this is what they are doing— nearly every one of them presents what they would like the church, or others with faith, to think about Jesus. Clear examples of this can be found in the studies of Marcus Borg, N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders, and B.D. Chilton—in fact, we would not be far short of the mark if we claimed that this pertains to each scholar—always and forever. And each claims that his or her presentation of Jesus is rooted in the evidence, and only in the evidence. (p. 36)

From James Crossley: To date the study has been approached too narrowly, “being dominated by Christians”.

As it stands presently, NT scholarship will always get largely Christian results, be they the nineteenth-century liberal lives of Jesus, the Bultmannian dominated neo-Lutheranism, or the results of smaller subgroups, such as the social reformer/critic Cynic Jesus associated with the Jesus Seminar: all different but all recognizably Christian. (p. 23)

Crossley quoting Maurice Casey:

But when 90 percent of the applicants [to New Testament studies] are Protestant Christians, a vast majority of Christian academics is a natural result. Moreover, the figure of Jesus is of central importance in colleges and universities which are overtly Protestant or Catholic, and which produce a mass of books and articles of sufficient technical proficiency to be taken seriously. The overall result of such bias is to make the description of New Testament Studies as an academic field a dubious one. (p. 23) read more »


2013-01-07

Hoffmann’s arguments for an historical Jesus: exercises in circularity and other fallacies

by Neil Godfrey

One never thinks to engage seriously with ticks so when Hoffmann calls his mythicist opponents “mythtics” it is clear he has no interest in taking them seriously. When he does speak of the arguments of those he has described as “ghetto-dwelling disease carrying mosquitoes/buggers” he necessarily keeps them anonymous and never cites or quotes them, but belabors the same tired old straw man points he seems to want, maybe even needs, them to be arguing. I return to this point at the end of the post.

So without a dialogue partner I post here my own thoughts and questions about his method that leads him to conclude that Jesus of Nazareth did exist as an historical person.

He writes in his post, The Historically Inconvenient Jesus (with my formatting):

Given that there is

  • (a) no reason to trust the gospels;
  • (b) no external testimony to the existence of Jesus (I’ve never thought that the so-called “pagan” reports were worth considering in detail; at most they can be considered evidence of the cult, not a founder);
  • (c) no independent Christian source that is not tainted by the missionary objectives of the cult
  • and (d) no Jewish account that has not been invented or tainted by Christian interpolators,

what is the purpose of holding out for an historical Jesus?

Actually I think his point (a) is badly expressed. I actually do believe we can and should “trust the gospels” — but only after we first analyze them to understand what, exactly, they are. I believe we can trust the Gospel of Mark as an expression of theological beliefs about Jesus because that’s exactly what it is. I can see no more reason to use it as an historical source for its narrative contents than there would be to use the Gospel of Mary for the same purpose. That means the Gospel of Mark, like the Gospel of Mary, is an excellent, trustworthy source for certain theological beliefs and the ways they were expressed among those who first knew these gospels. I know of no a priori reason to think anyone should bother to read them for kernels of historical events and persons behind their narratives. I can see lots of reasons in the Gospels to think their narratives have nothing to do with historical events.

But that’s just me (and, I think, William Wrede) so I’ll move on and for the sake of argument play the game the way Hoffmann plays it here.

As for starting with a complete absence of reliable external testimonies, Hoffmann is parting company with probably most of his peers. Looks like this position is a legacy from his own time as a “mythtick”.

So Hoffmann is beginning his “quest” for evidence of historicity without gospels, without external testimonies, and without any independent Christian source. Ex nihilo?

Hoffmann explains that the historical Jesus will emerge from “the three C’s”: conditions, context and coordinates.

Simply put, it is the three “C”s: conditions, context, and coordinates. read more »


2012-02-05

Hypocritical Christ-mythers: Cameron’s response to Neil Godfrey at Vridar — & my response back

by Neil Godfrey
Русский: Григорий Распутин . English: Grigorij...
Theologian
4 evolutionists (1873)
Evolutionists
Herodotus and Thucydides
Historians

Cameron, a critic of Dave Fitzgerald’s Nailed, has responded to my remarks (Are Mythicist Sceptics Hypocritical for Attacking Creationists) about his accusation that those who reject the historicity of Jesus are hypocritical if they also criticize Creationists for rejecting an academic consensus. As seems to be par for the course with these sorts of attacks, derisive labels and character attacks are deployed against anyone who argues that Jesus was not a historical figure. Hence the generic title of his response: Hypocritical Christ-mythers.

Cameron begins his response thus:

In my review of David Fitzgerald’s book Nailed, I criticized Christ-mythers for ignoring the consensus of biblical scholars on the historical Jesus, while simultaneously attacking creationists for rejecting the consensus of scientists on evolution. Fitzgerald didn’t like the comparison, and neither did Neil Godfrey over at Vridar. But he’s wrong for the same reasons Fitzgerald is. His comments are in quotes, followed by my responses.

“Of course there is one professor who asserts that to the extent that biblical studies does have a degree of certainty (even though only a fraction of anything in the sciences), to that extent mythicists should respectfully submit to this consensus just as creationists should be rational and accept the authority of scientists. That one discipline is the foundation of all our modern progress and the other is a Mickey Mouse course doesn’t matter. What matters is that the most honourable professors in each have certainties. One just happens to have greater certainties than the other, that’s all.”

Of course there’s a degree of uncertainty involved when investigating historical figures, but to call biblical history a “Mickey Mouse course” is to reach a new level of special pleading. People like Godfrey make the entire field sound like a collection crazy, right-wing evangelicals bent on defending their worldview. The truth is that these scholars, whatever their ideological commitments may be, are interested in the truth. That most of them (even those skeptical of Christianity) have rejected the Christ-myth speaks volumes about its lack of validity. Furthermore, if mythicists are aware of the limitations of history, though they exaggerate them, don’t you think historians areas well? Yeah…they are. But somehow the experts rarely throw up their hands and exclaim, “well we weren’t there; Jesus probably wasn’t real!”

Whatever their ideological commitments?

Cameron portrays theologians who study “the historical Jesus” as reasonable enough to set aside their ideological commitments in order to objectively seek out only “the truth” of the matter. This is a naive Pollyannish portrayal of a scholarly field dominated by faith-committed theologians. Let’s break down Cameron’s comment and examine each piece.

Biblical studies is probably the most ideologically oriented of all academic disciplines. Hector Avalos has shown that clearly enough in The End of Biblical Studies. R. Joseph Hoffmann remarked on this blog that the reason the Christ myth theory is not given more attention among scholars has more to do with conditions of academic appointments than common sense. Stevan Davies recently pointed out that a list of the Westar Institute Fellows shows nearly all are or have been affiliated with seminaries and theological institutions. Most of the scholarly books one picks up on the historical Jesus contain prefaces or concluding chapters in which one reads reflections that sound more like homilies or spiritual confessions. James Crossley has publicly denounced the way biblical scholars so regularly open their academic get-togethers (seminars, workshops) with prayers. Blogs of theologian scholars are dominated by spiritual reflections and sayings. Atheists and atheism are generally derided. Ideology is important. The Christian faith dominates the entire field of biblical studies. To suggest that these scholars are all committed to setting aside their personal faith and seeking truth regardless of where it may lead sounds about as plausible as expecting Nazi-era scientists to set aside their political ideology in order to study the biological grounds for racial differences.

That most of such scholars have rejected a model that undermines the entire ideological and faith foundations of this scholarly field tells us absolutely nothing about its lack of validity. read more »


2011-11-03

What mythicists need

by Neil Godfrey

What mythicists need is a competent, knowledgeable and intelligent historicist to challenge them. One who doesn’t resort to ad hominem or outright insult. One who doesn’t see “mythicism” in every nook and cranny — whether in creationism or the Piltdown man or even Shakespeare! — wherever he or she even half way suspects he/she just might possibly find it.

Recently I responded to one scholar who has picked up the anti-mythicist cause when he wrote:

There is no more circularity (and no less) in investigating a historical Jesus than a historical Socrates or John the Baptist or Shakespeare.

I disagreed. I had referred to statements by historical Jesus scholars who have had the intellectual honesty to concede the circularity of their enterprise. (I have posted on these several times now — quotations by Albert Schweitzer, Stevan Davies and Dale C. Allison.)

I had pointed out that the evidence for the historicity of Socrates is not circular and referred to my earlier posts demonstrating this simple fact. We have multiple independent contemporary sources for the existence of Socrates — at least one from a devoted pupil and another from a scoffing playwright, one from a friend and one from a(n apparent) foe — and so the probability for the historical existence of Socrates is at least positive. Schweitzer lamented the fact that we have no comparable evidence for the historicity of Jesus since all the sources for Jesus are traced back to

the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability. (p. 402, 2001 edition of Quest) read more »


2011-10-09

It all depends where one enters the circle

by Neil Godfrey

Reading Jesus the Healer by Stevan Davies alongside Constructing Jesus by Dale Allison is an interesting exercise in chiaroscuro comparisons.

Both agree on the nature of circularity at the heart of historical Jesus studies. Davies begins with a quotation from E. P. Sanders:

In regard to Jesus research E. P. Sanders correctly observes, “There is, as is usual in dealing with historical questions, no opening which does not involve one in a circle of interpretation, that is, which does not depend on points which in turn require us ot understand other [points],” and he insists that “one must be careful to enter the circle at the right point, that is, to choose the best starting place.” The best starting place, it follows, is one that is historically secure with a meaning that can be known somewhat independently from the rest of the evidence. It further follows, as he rightly says, that one should “found the study on bedrock, and especially to begin at the right point.”

In the field of Jesus research, however, one person’s bedrock is another person’s sand. I cannot honestly think of a single supposed bedrock event or interpretive stance that somebody has not denied. Nor, to my knowledge, are there any two constructions of the “authentic” sayings of Jesus that are identical. One might compile a short set of parables, proverbs, and aphorisms that are universally conceded to be from Jesus, but they will be that set that conveys the least inherent meaning . . . and where one can go from there I am not at all sure. (p. 43, my bolding)

Davies opts, then, to embrace as his bedrock two details upon which “scholars agree almost unanimously”: that Jesus was believed in his time to have been (1) a prophet and (2) a healer and exorcist. read more »


2011-03-26

Finding Jesus Under the Stone: The Gospel of Thomas Guide to the Scholarly Search for the Historical Jesus

by Neil Godfrey
Sefurieh - Plain of Buttauf, Palestine, 1859
Image via Wikipedia

There is a passage in the Gospel of Thomas that would seem to encapsulate the historical methodology some scholars use to reconstruct the historical Jesus:

77 Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.

Split a piece of wood; I am there.

Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”

Professor Bruce Chilton‘s book Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography is a classic case study of how biblical scholarship can be so consumed by its idée fixe that “the historical Jesus” will be found everywhere the faithful scholar looks:

  1. beneath every stone the archaeologist lifts in Galilee,
  2. behind the fabulous tales of miracles and supernatural characters in the canonical gospels,
  3. wedged within every extra-canonical text one cares to split apart. read more »

2011-02-11

Response to McGrath’s circularity and avoidance of the methodological argument

by Neil Godfrey
Logarithmic spiral
Image via Wikipedia

In a “response” to a recent post of mine about historical method, James McGrath illustrates well the very problem and question begging that my post was intended to highlight.

McGrath’s opening statement affirms that he simply fails to grasp the argument I am presenting.

[Neil Godfrey’s] post begins by stating and commenting on the principle which was the focus of my [McGrath’s] post: “If all we have is a story that has no corroboration external to the narrative itself to attest to its historical status, then at the most basic level we have no way of knowing if the story has a historical basis or not.”

Whether this describes the situation in the case of the Gospels or not is perhaps best left to one side for now. Certainly the Gospels are not without a context provided both by Paul’s earlier epistles and by their reception history.

That second paragraph that I have highlighted demonstrates a failure to grasp the meaning of the words of mine he has just quoted. McGrath says the “context” of the Gospels consists of the early epistles of Paul and their reception history, but this “context” is not the same thing at all as providing external corroboration or controls that can testify to the historicity of the narrative of the gospels. They may indeed provide “context”. But that misses the point. read more »


2011-01-31

Respecting the Honesty of Conservative Historical Jesus Scholarship

by Neil Godfrey
Reinhardt College Bible Study Class 1913 – from Wikimedia Commons

I have been catching up with two conservative historical Jesus scholars and once again I find their honest perspectives about their historical methods refreshing.

Luke Timothy Johnson in The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels is quite upfront with stating the obvious: the historical Jesus model does not work as an explanation for the start of Christianity unless, at minimum, there really were a series of resurrection appearances to a widespread number of witnesses. (Or you could just read the subtitle if you were in a real hurry to know his views.)

To try to suggest that the religion took off light bolt lightning around the Mediterranean world because one or a few disciples had inner-experiences that convinced them that Jesus was still somehow “alive and with them” in a mysterious way just does not cut it.

And if Christianity began with a string of real resurrection appearances then its origins are completely beyond the norms post Enlightenment historical methodology. It is beyond secular historical inquiry.

Here are the words of LTJ (with my emphasis): read more »


2011-01-26

Wrong link to Allison’s discussion of circularity in historical Jesus studies

by Neil Godfrey

In my previous post I misdirected anyone interested in following up where I posted on Dale Allison’s discussion of circularity in historical Jesus studies. I have since corrected that link. Here it is again:

Clarity about circularity by Dale Allison

The point being that Hobsbawm’s insistence on the need for independent evidence is designed to avoid just this circularity that is at the core of historical Jesus studies. His attempt to equate Hobsbawm’s historical concerns with those of Allison curiously manages to avoid this central point and difference between the two approaches to history.

It does not do to try to change the rules and say we have to work without independent evidence in the case of the gospels because it doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist then we need to ask questions of the evidence that will allow us to work within the norms of a valid logic that avoids circularity.


How a biblical scholar uses sleight of hand to argue against mythicism

by Neil Godfrey

McGrath has linked to my post critiquing his comments on the Christ myth proposition and managed to avoid totally the whole point of my post — and the whole point of the particular quotation from Hobsbawm in question. But that is the normal way he “responds” to such critiques.

He also seeks to imply that those who use this quotation are ignorant of Hobsbawm’s arguments and are misrepresenting them, and he does this be showing he has at last got his hands on a copy of a book in which the quote does not appear, even though I have often cited the source of the quotation on my blog.

I have regularly cited the source: From p.24 of A Contra Corriente: a Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America (2004). That is not easy to locate anymore, but the article is now available in pdf format at http://www.ncsu.edu/project/acontracorriente/spring_04/Slatta.pdf. (McGrath has asked more than once for evidence and sources (purportedly) to help him understand how nonbiblical historians work, and I have given him sources several times but he seems not to have followed them up.)

McGrath has completely sidestepped the whole point of the quotation and of my previous post, which is the importance of independent evidence for uncovering historicity of narratives.

“In no case can we infer the reality of any specific ’social bandit’ merely from the ‘myth’ that has grown up around him. In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions.”

It is instructive that McGrath originally elicited this quotation from one of his commenters by asking point blank:

Evan, Perhaps you can clarify, with reference to historians and historical methodology, how you are using the term “fact.”

Evan then responded with the quotation (and some others) along with his explanation in direct answer to McGrath’s request to clarify what he meant — with reference to historians and historical methodology — how he was using the word “fact”

Unfortunately, McGrath appears to have become derailed at the Evan’s cogent response as requested, and turned on him for “quote mining” and ripping words out of context.

But the quotation was not out of context. It explained exactly how Evan was using the term “fact”, and he did so with reference, as requested, to historians and historical methodology.

First time round McGrath dismissed Hobsbawm’s quote as a commie plot!

McGrath has had a hard time with Hobsbawm. When I first presented his words to him he responded that they were not reliable because they were part of a communist plot to re-write history.

Second, it seems that your quote from Hobsbawm indicates once again that, unless you have some sort of evidence other than texts, you are unwilling to entertain the possibility that a text bears some relationship to historical events. You (and Hobsbawm) are free to adopt this approach, of course, but might Hobsbawm’s desire to rewrite the legacy of Communism suggest that his statement has more to do with ideology than mainstream historiography?

Note also that even then McGrath misused the quotation erroneously thinking that it was arguing that one needed “evidence other than texts” to verify historical facts. I had made no such argument at all, and Hobsbawm was certainly not arguing that. Yet that is how McGrath chose to use the quote.

Now that these words have resurfaced on his own blog he has once again used sleight of hand to misuse them. Just as he earlier attempted to argue that Hobsbawm was arguing a position neither he nor I ever suggested, he now uses the quotation to argue that they say something far less than they actually do. He has a hard time with reading its last sentence: In all cases we need independent evidence of his actions.

And that is exactly what we lack in the case of the actions of Jesus. Even his existence is, by the same standards, theoretically open to question, as Albert Schweitzer himself pointed out:

[A]ll the reports about [Jesus] go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability. (Schweitzer, Quest, p.402)

And that could be why McGrath is clearly determined to get rid of this Hobsbawm quote by any trick in the book, fair or foul, he can find.

To cap off the McGrath’s misapplication of Hobsbawm’s methods, he even compares Hobsbawm’s work with biblical scholar Dale Allison’s on the historical Jesus. Allison, as I showed in a recent post, has the honesty to recognize the circularity of methods used in historical Jesus studies. Will McGrath suggest Hobsbawm’s requirement for independent evidence means that his work is also grounded in circularity? It is, of course, only by means of independent evidence that one can escape circularity.

I discussed this in my previous post about how we can know anyone existed in ancient times, and what is meant by “independent” evidence.

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