What if the Testimonium Flavianum, the passage about Jesus and his followers, in Antiquities by Josephus was written in full (or maybe with the exception of no more than 3 words) by Josephus? I know that would raise many questions about the nature of the rest of our sources but let’s imagine the authenticity of the passage in isolation from everything else for now.
What if the passage about Christ in Tacitus was indeed written by Tacitus? Ditto about that raising more questions as above, but the same.
What if even the author attribution studies that have demonstrated the very strong likelihood that Pliny’s letter about Christians to Trajan was not written by Pliny were wrong after all?
What if that “pocket gospel” in the early part of chapter 11 of the Ascension of Isaiah were original to the text and not a subsequent addition? (I think that the most recent scholarly commentary by Enrico Norelli on the Ascension of Isaiah does actually suggest that scenario but I have not read any of the justifications if that is the case.)
What if 2 Thessalonians 2:13-16 which has Paul saying the Jews themselves killed Jesus in Judea was indeed written by Paul thus adding one more inconsistency of Paul’s thought to the already high pile?
What if, contrary to what has been argued in a work opposing (sic) the Christ Myth hypothesis, the passage about Paul meeting James the brother of the Lord was originally penned by Paul after all?
Would the above Imagine scenarios collectively remove any reason to question the assertion that Christianity began ultimately with a historical Jesus?
Bart Ehrman accuses Earl Doherty of being “driven by convenience” and “simply claiming” that a Bible verse that contradicts his thesis “was not actually written by [Paul]”.
At the same time Ehrman admits that the particular verse is disputed by many scholars, but then in his ensuing discussion he hides (sic!) from his lay readers the reasons they dispute it. Ehrman even conveys the false impression that all of the scholarly dispute is merely over a few words tagged on at the end of the verse; but surely knows that this is (to use his own damning words from another context) “simply not true”. I find it impossible to imagine that his simplistic and misleading discussion of this text would ever pass peer review were it submitted to a scholarly journal. No matter. He obviously thinks it is all his lay readers need to know; and that information that is only partial, or that is suppressed entirely, will serve more effectively to undermine Doherty’s credibility.
Doherty refuses to allow that 1 Thessalonians — which explicitly says that the Jews (or the Judeans) were the ones responsible for the death of Jesus — can be used as evidence of Paul’s view: it is, he insists, an insertion into Paul’s writings, not from the apostle himself. (Here we find, again, textual studies driven by convenience: if a passage contradicts your views, simply claim that it was not actually written by the author.) (p. my emphasis)
Notice Ehrman is unambiguously “informing” his readers that it is entirely Doherty’s own self-serving opinion that “refuses” to allow a particular verse to be considered original to Paul. The only reason we are led to believe, and this is on the authority of the highly reputable popular author Bart Ehrman, that Doherty rejects the originality of this verse is “simply” because it “inconveniently” refutes his argument. Doherty “simply claims” a verse is a forgery because, Ehrman assures us, he finds it contradicts his argument.
This is not an isolated accusation. Earlier in his book Ehrman similarly claimed:
One way that some mythicists have gotten around the problem that this, our earliest Christian source, refers to the historical Jesus in several places is by claiming that these references to Jesus were not originally in Paul’s writings but were inserted by later Christian scribes who wanted Paul’s readers to think that he referred to the historical Jesus. This approach to Paul can be thought of as historical reconstruction based on the principle of convenience. If historical evidence proves inconvenient to one’s views, then simply claim that the evidence does not exist, and suddenly you’re right.
This is a mischievous falsehood. Earl Doherty and G. A. Wells are NOT the ones who claim that certain verses are interpolations in order to “get around” contradictory evidence to establish their case. The arguments for the two verses they cite (I don’t know that there are any more than two) being interpolations are long-standing and well established by Ehrman’s own scholarly peers.
First I will quote what Doherty himself says with respect to his reasons for rejecting the authenticity of this verse in 1 Thessalonians.
Eddy and Boyd’s fifth and final point in “the case for the authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16” is to address the theological contradiction that exists between it and Romans 9-11.
Here is the evidence.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. (Rom 10:1)
I magnify my ministry if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. (Rom 11:13-14)
And they [Israel, the Jews] also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (Rom 11:23)
And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is my covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.” (Rom 11:26-27)
These thoughts in Romans do not sit easily with a passage (Thess 2:14-16) that blames the Jews for the death of Jesus and for filling up daily the full quota of all their sins, and proclaims that, for these reasons, God has poured out upon them his wrath with utter finality.
the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . . so as always to be filling up the measure of their sins, but wrath as come upon them to the uttermost/utter finality.
As Steven Carr has been pointing out in a comment here and on at least one other forum (FRDB), to describe the sin of crucifying and otherwise murdering Jesus and all the prophets as a condition of “continuing in unbelief” really just does not compute.
Who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and harassed and drove us out, and continue to make themselves hateful and offensive to God and to show themselves foes of all men,
Forbidding and hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles (the nations) that they may be saved. So as always they fill up [to the brim the measure of] their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last [completely and forever]!
Eddy and Boyd have surprisingly little to say about the often remarked antisemitic tone of this passage:
Likewise, the charge that the perspective of this passage is too “anti-Semitic” to have come from Paul is less than effective. Recently, Jeffrey Lamp has read 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 in light of Testament of Levi 6 and concluded:
Both the context of 1 Thess 2:13-16 and the comparison with Testament of Levi 6 strongly suggests that the use of generalizing language neither consigns all individuals within the group of “the Jews” to perdition nor implies that all individuals within this group are guilty of any or all points of Paul’s indictment against the group.
[J. S. Lamp, “Is Paul Anti-Semitic (sic*)? Testament of Levi 6 in the Interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16.” CBQ 65 (2003): 427.]
(*- the online version of this article has ‘Anti-Jewish”)
That is the total sum of their rebuttal of this point. (This was discussed in the previous post, (4)).
I am curious as to why they bracketed the word anti-Semitic with inverted commas. Do E&B think that the passage is not really antisemitic, or that the accusation is not a serious one? Do they simply profess not to see what others “often remark” upon?
In following up the discussion of this charge through the various articles they footnote, it seems that only one other author, (Simpson), demonstrates a similar hesitation to acknowledge a common observation:
Gentile authors of the Hellenistic-Roman world repeatedly spoke of the Jews as a people which . . . were standoffish and hostile toward other people. Because these statements have been identified with “Gentile anti-Semitism,” their appearance in 1 Thess 2:15 has been regarded as evidence against Pauline authorship of that verse. . . .
The writer of 1 Thess 2:15, for his part, uses ancient Gentile generalizations about Jews because of their suitability to the occasion, because, that is, they . . . link up with the continual sinfulness of “the Jews” . . . . (J. W. Simpson, “The Problems Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and a Solution.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990) pp. 56-57)
Strange how some modern authors cannot bring themselves to call a spade a spade when it comes to the Bible. Given the history of Christian antisemitism it is surely inexcusable for any public intellectual to hold their fire when addressing verses that have historically fanned that evil.
Since E&B have nothing more to say about the antisemitism of these verses, I thought it worthwhile to fill the gap. It is, after all, a most significant point in the argument over whether these verses were written by Paul or inserted by a later forger — as Simpson, quoted above, acknowledges. Continue reading “Eddy & Boyd: in denial over Bible’s antisemitism?”
As remarked in a recent comment I have been dwelling on a micro-section of The Jesus Legend (Eddy and Boyd) in this recent series of posts. But this is not the first time I have addressed specifics in their book. I am sure I will be addressing more in future, both macro and micro.
Indicting “The Jews” for the murder of the Lord Jesus
Having insisted that 1 Thess 2:13-16 was indeed written by Paul, Eddy and Boyd (The Jesus Legend) must now attempt to argue that the contents of the passage are not antisemitic.
One of the slogans of antisemitism through the ages has been “the Jews killed Christ”. The author of this Thessalonians passage puts the blame for the death of Jesus squarely, solely and unequivocally on the Jews:
For you have suffered the same things from your own country-men, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us . . .
Birger A. Pearson (“1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: A Deutero-Pauline Interpolation” Harvard Theological Review (1971): 85) observes that in all other letters of Paul,
[Paul] never attributes the death of Jesus to the Jews. 1 Corinthians 2:8 is the best example of Paul’s own view: Jesus was brought to his death by the demonic “rulers of this age” who did not know that by doing so they would defeat themselves in the process.
(Pearson remarks in passing that Origen in his commentary on Matthew interprets “the rulers of this age” in this way.)
Eddy and Boyd’s “rebuttal” of the above
Could Paul really have accused the Jews of killing Christ? Why certainly! say E&B, but he didn’t mean to sound like he was blaming “all Jews”, or only the Jews, collectively:
There is simply no reason to suppose that Paul could not have believed that several groups — including some Jews and some secular authorities and/or spiritual powers — were responsible for bringing this event about. (213)
Note how E&B deftly convey the idea that only “some Jews” were indirectly responsible (“bringing this event about”) for the death of Christ. Only “some Jews”? That’s not what is said in 1 Thessalonians 2.
The argument that 1 Thess. 2:13-16 is an interpolation generally includes the claim that the passage refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. — some years after Paul’s time. The last line of this section is
. . . . But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost (or ‘at last’) (1 Thess 2:16)
1st E&B argument
Eddy and Boyd, in The Jesus Legend, attempt to argue for the genuineness of the passage by denying this would have originally referred to the destruction of Jerusalem:
There is no reason to assume that the reference to God’s wrath overtaking the Jews refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. . . . It is not even clear that the reference to God’s wrath must be understood as an observable event in history. (p. 213)
E&B appeal to Romans chapters 1 and 9 (and again to a passage in 2 Thessalonians, a letter that is also strongly argued as being a forgery) to suggest that the wrath of God might simply mean that He has abandoned them to ungodly behaviour and delusion.
2nd E&B argument
But if the passage does refer to a specific event, they claim that it could refer to the expulsion of the Jews under Claudius in 49 c.e.
So E&B fail to argue a case themselves. They merely point to a couple of contradictory views and in effect say,
Take your pick. Pick any weakly supported solution we can think of so long as it denies the passage is a post-Pauline interpolation. And oh, by the way, we are not going to even repeat for you the arguments of those who insist it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. Why bother if we can think up anything that says the passage is genuine? We don’t want to confuse you with the details.
One wonders if E&B have any idea (or if they even want to know) what it means. If the reader doesn’t like one explanation, then give them a choice so they can take one they are comfortable with. They outline no real argument for or against either conclusion. This is hardly making a “case for the historical reliability” of Jesus or the purity (no interpolations) of our Pauline letters.
3rd E&B argument
They also assert that the phrase “at last” or “to the uttermost” literally means “to (or until) the end”, and one can think of this meaning paralleling Jesus’ prophecy of future judgment at the end of the age. That is, E&B inform readers that the passage may simply mean that God’s judgment is on the Jews until the coming of Christ.
Eddy and Boyd are often touted as having written some sort of authoritative rebuttal of arguments sceptical of “the historical reliability of the Synoptic Jesus tradition”, but as I began to show in my earlier part 1 post, and will continue here, their work
misrepresents specific arguments they claim to refute;
demonstrates a shoddiness, sometimes bordering on intellectual dishonesty.
One commenter said I lack a sense of charity or humanity when I speak harshly against certain authors. I sometimes think he might have a point, and I reconsider. But other times I confess I have little patience with public intellectuals who are looked to as authorities yet whose work demonstrates a lack of respect for the integrity of their public audiences and/or the logical norms of wider scholarly discourse, and who substitute these for popular or partisan assertions and obfuscations.
“The Case for the Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16” (Part 2)
A popular book cited by lay readers and scholars alike as presenting “a case for the historical reliability of the synoptic Jesus tradition” is The Jesus Legend by Eddy and Boyd. Richard Bauckham calls it “one of the most important books on methodological issues in the study of Jesus and the Gospels to have appeared for a long time.” Craig A. Evans says it “is the best book in its class. Eddy and Boyd demonstrate mastery of the disciplines essential for critical assessment of the Gospels and competent investigation of the historical Jesus.” Paul Eddy is cited as a professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University and Gregory Boyd, PhD, is a senior pastor.
These praises of this book are, simply, staggering to someone who has actually taken the time to read it with a view to better understanding the conservative or establishment side of the discussions about the historicity of Jesus. The book is, in fact, a hodge podge of misrepresentations, obfuscation of contrary arguments, dishonest footnoting, misleading assertions, . . . Well. Let’s take just two pages that I was consulting recently to dig into the arguments surrounding a passage in Thessalonians. . . .
Take their discussion The Case for 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 as a Later Interpolation (pp.211-214).
I only read as far as the second page (212) and found:
one instance of plagiarism
a footnote reference turning out to be supporting a view inconsistent, even opposite, what E&B used it for
oversimplifications and misrepresentation of opposing arguments
a failure to even mention let alone address published arguments contradicting their assertions — even though they cited the relevant authors and works for other reasons
a tendency to simply cite other authors as having the arguments readers need without actually explaining to readers a summary of what those arguments are
Eddy and Boyd’s methodology
Before discussing these, one introductory note is appropriate. E&B are open about their methodological approach to their arguments. They argue that it is quite legitimate to accept a “low probability” (“super-natural”) argument in instances where “an event . . . defies plausible naturalistic explanation.” (p.90) That conjunction of “plausible” and “naturalistic” is interesting. One surely must wonder what ‘naturalistic’ explanation could possibly be ‘implausible’ compared with resorting to what is by definition the least probable of all explanations, a miracle. This assumption that miracles should be accepted as explanations for the claims of the New Testament literature has its impact throughout the remainder of their book. E&B explain:
This open approach to critical historiography will form a part of the methodological backdrop for the remainder of this book.
In stating this from the outset, E&B explain why they have been so inconsistent and less than fully intellectually honest in their arguments. They have made up their minds that the narratives of the Gospels and Acts, and the self-witness of the New Testament letters, are all basically “true”. One wonders then why they would really bother with gathering, therefore, “scholarly naturalistic” arguments to support their case. This must surely wear down their patience. From the outset they reject enlightenment methodologies of naturalistic reasoning and scientific approaches. So the rest becomes merely a matter of gathering any “naturalistic-reasoned” argument from any source, and even arguments that simply look good enough from a distance, and sticking them together in a book to appear to be a reasoned rebuttal of arguments against the historicity of Jesus. The alternative explanation for this shoddy and misleading book is less flattering.
On page 212 E&B write:
However, as I. Broer has effectively argued, the evidence from early Christian writings (e.g. 1 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp) suggests that the relatively widespread knowledge of the Pauline letters would naturally have served to hamper the easy acceptance and/or creation of interpolations.29
The even footnote this passage to:
29. I. Broer, “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in The Thessalonian Correspondence, ed. R. F. Collins (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990), 142-45.
A reader would naturally think E&B here are pointing to I. Broer’s argument as something they have themselves read and with which they agree. They are clearly conveying the impression that they know Broer’s argument well enough to be able to describe and reference it in this way.
But their pants drop to their ankles when one happens to read an article by Jon A. Weatherly, The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence, in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 42 (1991) 79-98. There, on page 79, one reads:
I. Broer has argued persuasively that the evidence from 1 Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp indicates that knowledge of the Pauline Epistles in the post-apostolic church was sufficient to rule out the acceptance of large numbers of interpolations (‘ “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in R. F. Collins (ed.), The Thessalonian Correspondence, [BETL, 87; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990], pp. 142-45.
What’s the bet E&B have never read I. Broer at all and that all they know of Broer is Weatherly’s 1991 claim?
I wouldn’t really care if so many people weren’t relying on E&B as some sort of authority, but they clearly are.
It seems that E&B realize that lots of footnotes make a book look impressively well researched and authoritative. It also seems that they expect few readers to actually bother to check those footnotes to see that they are indeed really doing the job claimed for them. Again on page 212 E&B write:
. . . these verses seem stylistically uncharacteristic of Paul, but it is not clear that they are so to an extent that would warrant the conclusion that they are not Paul’s own words.30
Then the supporting footnote:
30. Schmidt’s linguistic arguments have been convincingly answered by J. Weatherly, “The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence”, JSNT, 42 (1991): 79-98; and J. W. Simpson, “The Problems Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and a Solution.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990): 52-54.
Now I read E&B here as affirming that the linguistic arguments for 1 Thess. 2:13-16 being an interpolation are not strong, and that all one has to do to confirm this is to turn to the cited articles by Weatherly and Simpson. So that’s what I did. I read Weatherly’s article first, and then Simpson’s. It turns out that while both authors do attempt to find reasons to think that the passage is not an interpolation, the two scholars directly contradict each other.
Simpson even summarizes many of arguments also advanced by Weatherly and shows them, often on linguistic grounds, to be either false or without substance. Specifically, Simpson trounces the following arguments found in Weatherly:
the linguistic arguments that the passage is not necessarily expressing hostility against the Jews;
that the passage can be reconciled conceptually with Romans 11;
that the words in the passage do not really say judgment has come with finality upon the Jews;
that the Greek does not really say that the Jews have completed all the sins required for an inevitable final judgment;
that the lack of textual witness for an interpolation carries much weight.
Yet somehow E&B have managed to claim that BOTH scholars have refuted the linguistic arguments!
This reminds me of Groucho Marx: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
As for E&B’s claim that these two authors have “convincingly answered” the stylistic argument, here is what Simpson himself writes (p.43) in his article:
An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence,nor can we make the common assumption that the burden of proof faces the argument for interpolation. The virtue of the interpolation view, as it has been developed by Pearson and Schmidt, is, as we shall see, that it seeks to solve the broadest range of problems, that is, that it draws out in a valuable way the evidence which any view of 1 Thess 2:15f. must take into account.
Again Simpson writes (p.50):
Many form-critical solutions are plausible, both with and without 2:13-16, and all are to some degree problematic.
Simpson concludes (p. 62):
This is not to say that any of these arguments do not point to real problems in regard to 1 Thess 2:13-16, only that the interpolation view is not their best solution.
Simpson fully acknowledges the strength of many of the arguments for interpolation. He does not claim to have nailed the coffin on them. He does attempt to argue, against Pearson, for a plausible explanation for Paul expressing, over time, sharply contradictory words about Jews and their ultimate fate. His arguments against Schmidt are often technical and subtle. They are hardly mark a finality to the discussion as E&B suggest, and as unwary readers would too easily assume from E&B’s statements.
Ditto for Weatherly. Weatherly concluded his article (p.98) thus:
1 Thess. 2.13-16 remains a difficult passage for interpreters of Paul. That the apostle who wrote with such compassion and hope of his Jewish compatriots in Romans 9-11 could write so bitterly of some of them in 1 Thessalonians 2 is problematic, though hardly unprecedented. But another look at the data shows that the evidence for its inauthenticity is, at best, equivocal.
So these authors contradict each other in some key linguistic arguments. Each admits that any explanation, even their own, is not without difficulties. Yet E&B cite them both as having “convincingly answered” — as if they have put to rest — the linguistic arguments against inauthenticity of the Thessalonians passage.
Suppressing the contrary arguments
I opened in my “Plagiarism” section with E&B discussing the significance of a lack of textual evidence for an interpolation. E&B clearly consider the lack of manuscript evidence a major argument. They begin their argument with:
It is no minor problem for a textual theory when there is no textual evidence to support it. Yet this is the case here. Every ancient copy of 1 Thessalonians we have contains verses 13-16. The claim that this passage is an interpolation often rides on the coattails of a wider claim regarding a variety of Pauline interpolations, again generally without manuscript evidence. 28
Again one looks down to check the footnote:
28. See, e.g., Walker, Interpolations . . .
It happens that I have seen Walker, Interpolations, and some time ago wrote a summary of Walker’s discussion of a Literary Culture of Interpolations in which he shows why the lack of manuscript evidence is a virtual non-starter. Walker lists many classical and Christian texts that scholars can see, without any need for manuscript evidence, do contain interpolations.
I summarize here the evidence for the “culture of interpolations” that Walker argues must surely outweigh the paucity of manuscript evidence. They are more fully set out in post linked above.
Letters of Plato
Letters of Aristotle
Letters of Epicurus
Letters of Seneca
The Testimonium Flavianum or at least part thereof;
The Sibylline Oracles,
The Synagogal Prayers and such literature
The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,
The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, claimed “heretics” had both added to and deleted from his letters.
Irenaeus feared his writings would be interpolated.
“Many Greek patristic writings” according to Rufinius
Letters of Paul and gospel of Luke according to Marcion
Pentateuch and gospels were likely built up layer by layer
Epistles of Ignatius
The adulterous woman episode in gospel of John
The longer ending of Mark
Perhaps final chapter of John
The Western text of the Gospels and Acts
And even the Western “non-interpolations”
E&B cite Walker as a support for their own claim that there is indeed a lack of manuscript evidence, but their integrity is open to question when they fail to address the fact that Walker himself argues that the manuscript evidence is clearly often not critical at all!
It is also slightly amusing to see E&B failing to address this argument over manuscript evidence and interpolations when one of their cited authors even argues against them:
An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence, . . . (Simpson p.43)
— which is exactly how E&B do begin their argument against interpolations!