Tag Archives: Brodie: The Crucial Bridge

Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 2 (Discovering the Crucial Bridge) — With a Note on “Parallelomania”

Continuing Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery

This post follows on from my earlier one on Chapter 8 where Brodie is beginning to appreciate the nature of the literary artistry of the biblical books.

Chapter 9

The Third Revolution Deepens: 1992-1995

.

Reminder: This series is skipping over many of the personal details related to Thomas Brodie’s intellectual odyssey. It also needs to be kept in mind that generally, this book does not present Brodie’s detailed arguments but rather traces how his understanding of the nature and origins of the Biblical literature emerged.

If a Jesus narrative were based on the Elijah-Elisha story (see “That Is An Important Thesis“) one had to ask why. Would not the story of Moses or David have been more appropriate as a model? This question perplexed Brodie until his further studies on Genesis opened up a new awareness of the nature of the biblical literature. But let’s digress a moment to consider an objection that has on some theologian’s blogsites recently been flung at Brodie’s arguments since he has claimed they lead to a “mythicist” conclusion.

Parallelomania: the facts

“Parallelomania” has once again been flung as a dismissive epithet by a number of theologians and religion scholars at Christ myth arguments in general and Thomas Brodie’s arguments in particular, so it is worth taking a moment to revisit the article that introduced the notorious notion of “Parallelomania”. It can be read on this Vridar.org page; I have taken excerpts from it in the following discussion.

Samuel Sandmel
Samuel Sandmel

I don’t think James McGrath has ever had the time to read that article that he invites others to read. If he had, he would know that its author (Samuel Sandmel) points out that by “parallelomania” he means plucking passages from the vast array of, say, rabbinical literature or from a work of Philo’s out of their broader contexts and using them (thus decontextualized) to claim they have some direct relevance to similar-sounding passages in the New Testament. That is not what Brodie is doing. Sandmel even explains that the sort of detailed analysis done by Brodie to explore questions of literary indebtedness is indeed justified and is not to be confused with something else that he is addressing.

The key word in my essay is extravagance. I am not denying that literary parallels and literary influence, in the form of source and derivation, exist. I am not seeking to discourage the study of these parallels, but, especially in the case of the Qumran documents, to encourage them. . . . .

An important consideration is the difference between an abstract position on the one hand and the specific application on the other. . . . . it is in the detailed study rather than in the abstract statement that there can emerge persuasive bases for judgment. . . . . The issue for the student is not the abstraction but the specific. Detailed study is the criterion, and the detailed study ought to respect the context and not be limited to juxtaposing mere excerpts. Two passages may sound the same in splendid isolation from their context, but when seen in context reflect difference rather than similarity.

Note the problem with taking excerpts from a corpus of literature and using them as parallels with something else. This results in

confusing a scrutiny of excerpts with a genuine comprehension of the tone, texture, and import of a literature.

In Brodie’s analyses, on the other hand, it is as much the tone, texture, and import of the respective documents that are being analysed as the individual words and phrases.

One of the greatest sins of “parallelomania” is

the excessive piling up of . . . passages. Nowhere else in scholarly literature is quantity so confused for quality . . . . The mere abundance of so-called parallels is its own distortion . . . .

I recently posted chapter 7 of Brodie’s book to demonstrate that Brodie does not make his case by a mere piling up of matching words or ideas. The structure, the theme, the context, the motivation — these are all part of Brodie’s argument.

Finally, the crowning sin of parallelomania is one that I not too long ago identified in the work of historian Michael Grant about Jesus. I’ll first quote Sandmel:

On the one hand, they quote the rabbinic literature endlessly to clarify the NT. Yet even where Jesus and the rabbis seem to say identically the same thing, Strack-Billerbeck manage to demonstrate that what Jesus said was finer and better. . . . . Why, I must ask, pile up the alleged parallels, if the end result is to show a forced, artificial, and untenable distinction even within the admitted parallels?

Grant followed many theologians who insist that though the golden rule was known in some form among the rabbis (and in other civilizations), Jesus expressed it better than anyone else.

Sandmel’s article on “parallelomania” is actually an endorsement of the sort of work being done by scholars who work seriously on literary analysis of texts and a warning against the sins found too often among the mainstream scholars. Unfortunately some theologians, McGrath included in his Burial of Jesus, are on record as saying that literary analysis has no place in the work of historical inquiry. On the contrary, without literary analysis the historian has no way of knowing how to interpret literary documents.

It is that very detailed study that Sandmel said is necessary, and the study of the context, both immediate context and the wider cultural context of literary practices of the day, that Brodie is undertaking. He is not plucking passages out of context from disparate sources and making an abstract claim that they can be read as a “parallel” to, and by implication source of, what we read in the gospels. (Such “extravagance” is the characteristic fault of “astrotheology”, but not of the scholarly work of Brodie and MacDonald.)

This is not the same as saying that MacDonald’s and Brodie’s arguments are necessarily correct. They still need to be studied and engaged with. There may be alternative explanations for some of the data they have addressed and believe points to literary borrowing. But it is not particularly scholarly to simply reject an argument one does not like by dismissing it with a pejorative label.

Now back to Beyond the Quest read more »

Joel Watts Acclaims Thomas Brodie a Scholarly “Giant” and His Work “A Masterpiece”

wattsongiants
Watts explains that to write his book, Mimetic Criticism, he had to stand upon three giants: MacDonald, Brodie and Winn.

Rabid anti-mythicist Joel Watts has hailed the major work of mythicist Thomas L. Brodie, The Birthing of the New Testament, as “a masterpiece” in his own newly published book, Mimetic Criticism and the Gospel of Mark:

[Brodie’s] 2004 work, The Birthing of the New Testament, exploring the answers to the creation of the New Testament, stands as a masterpiece. His thesis is rather remarkable and easily within the realm of Roman literary tradition. . . . Brodie . . . has provided us with a better methodology . . . (Mimetic, p. 19)

In The Birthing of the New Testament Brodie, who has since “come out” confessing that his work led him to conclude Jesus did not exist (see various posts in the Brodie Memoir Archive), expounds in depth his methods and arguments for the literary sources of the Gospels, and effectively demolishes any need for a hypothetical “oral tradition” to explain any of their narrative input. The deeds, teachings and even the characters in the gospels are for most part re-writings of the Jewish Scriptures.

But Joel Watts, who has nothing but verbal slime to flick at the intellectual competence and personal character of anyone who leans towards a mythicist view, did not know that when he wrote that Brodie’s arguments were “a masterpiece”!

My my, what one will acknowledge if one does not hear the M word in what one is reading!

This brings to mind Brodie’s own observation that other scholars and teachers did not have a problem with his methods, only his conclusions:

He listened to me patiently, and looked carefully through some of the manuscript. I brought the conclusions to his attention.

‘You cannot teach that’, he said quietly.

I explained that I didn’t want to teach the conclusions, just the method, as applied to limited areas of the New Testament. If the method was unable to stand the pressure of academic challenge, from students and other teachers, then I could quietly wave it good-bye and let the groundless conclusions evaporate in silence.

It was a Saturday afternoon. He needed time to think it over. He would see me in a few days. (Brodie, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, p. 36)

Brodie learned to keep silent about the implications of his arguments in his earlier published works. He explains why in his Memoir. He was advised by publishers and scholars that his conclusions (not his methods) were unacceptable.

Other scholars who have advanced similar arguments have evidently been aware of the conclusions to which they intuitively lead. They have therefore made a point of explicitly reminding readers they are not questioning the historicity of Jesus or the fundamentals of the Gospel accounts. That they need to protest so consistently tells me they well understand the logical conclusions to be drawn from those arguments — but faith (or security of academic tenure according to Joseph Hoffmann) must, as always, override reason. More on this at the end of this post.

Even James McGrath endorsed it, (until . . . . ?) read more »

Reviews of Brodie’s Works: Elijah-Elisha Influence on Gospel Narratives

the-crucial-bridgeHow was Brodie’s method of arguing that the Gospel narrative of Jesus is indebted to the OT narrative of Elijah and Elisha received by his scholarly peers before he published his conviction that there never was an historical Jesus? Was it laughed out of the academy as an unfortunate attack of “parallelomania” (as McGrath would seem to think it should be now that he classifies Brodie as an intellectual leper for denying the historical existence of Jesus)?

Thomas Brodie argues that the Old Testament double narrative of Elijah and Elisha lies behind the narratives of Jesus in the synoptic gospels. My previous post included references to this in extracts from reviews of The Birthing the New Testament. Brodie had earlier published a smaller volume outlining this particular case, The Crucial Bridge, and this post shares some details of scholarly reviews of that volume.

Anyone who has used the online Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark knows that its author, Michael Turton, has made numerous references to The Crucial Bridge. Jacob Aliet in his review of this commentary notes:

Backed by the works of scholar like Tomas L. Brodie, Turton advances the argument that the author of Mark modeled the events surrounding Jesus on the Elija-Elisha cycle and other Old Testament characters and prophecies. Though he performs a literary analysis on the gospel, Turton’s main objective is using the analysis to help in arriving at a judgement on the historicity of the events and characters in the Markan narrative.

Turton recognized the implications of Brodie’s analysis and did not shy away expressing it.

What needs to be understood is that The Crucial Bridge is only secondarily, even incidentally, an argument that the Gospels of Luke and Mark in particular were influenced by the Elijah-Elisha narrative. It is confined to the concluding 20-page chapter. The main argument (80 pages) examines the literary structure of the Elijah-Elisha section and its relationships with the Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings).

Moreover, Brodie’s final chapter arguing for a link between the Gospels and the Elijah-Elisha section is actually introduced as an attempt

to corroborate [Raymond] Brown’s proposal …that the Gospels were partly modeled on the prophetic biographies, particularly the account of Elisha and his miracles … in particular to make it more precise: the foundational model for the development of the Gospels was not just the account of Elisha’s miracles. It was the entire Elijah-Elisha narrative. (p. 80)

This proposal by Raymond Brown was published in Perspectives 12 (1971) 98-99 as “Jesus and Elisha”. Brodie notes that other scholars have since agreed with this basic idea:

  • Charles Talbert, What Is a Gospel?
  • Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity (1980), 30-32
  • David Barr and Judith Wentling, “The Conventions of Classical Biography and the Genre of Luke-Acts: A Preliminary Study,” paper presented at SBL/CBA regional meeting, 1980
  • Yarbro Collins, The Beginning of the Gospel, 27-36

The point I am making here is that Brodie’s thesis is not unique. It mixes with a respectable scholarly agenda. To dismiss his argument as inept methodologically after he has “come out” to confess his mythicist leanings suggests a base motive at large. read more »

The Elijah-Elisha narrative as a model for the Gospel of Mark

The Crucial BridgeThomas L. Brodie presents an argument that the Gospel of Mark was in its basic outline, plot and structure based on the Elijah-Elisha narrative in the Old Testament. I am not quite sure what to make of his case at times, but cannot deny its interest. I have no problem accepting that Mark used some of the miracle stories from Elijah and Elisha as templates for his Jesus miracles, but Brodie goes much further than this. His book is The Crucial Bridge: The Elijah-Elisha Narrative as an Interpretative Synthesis of Genesis-Kings and a Literary Model for the Gospels. It is published by the Order of St Benedict, Minnesota, 2000.

His discussion of the Elijah-Elisha narrative’s link with the Gospel of Mark consists only of ten of the last dozen pages of a 114 page book. The earlier section explains the reasons to see the Elijah-Elisha section of 1 and 2 Kings as a cohesive single narrative unit within the Primary History of Israel (Genesis-2 Kings), and also to argue that this section is a synthesis of the entire Primary History itself. I’m have a few questions about his overall thesis but need time to explore these. There are good reasons to opt for other models for Mark, too, and Brodie does not seem to deny this. There appear to have been a range of sources available to Mark and that potentially influenced the final mix that became his Gospel. read more »

Killer Saints?

There’s a footnote in Brodie’s The Crucial Bridge I paid little attention to until I heard a radio discussion about Japanese warrior Samurai becoming Buddhist monks.

Then I thought again about Brodie’s footnote (p.12-13) read more »

The Elijah-Elisha Narrative and the Gospel of Mark

Dale and Patricia Miller and Thomas Brodie discuss the Elijah-Elishah Cycle — 1 Kgs 16:292 Kgs 13:25 — as a source of Mark’s gospel.

Brodie:

Brodie does not limit the influences on Mark to the Elijah-Elisha (E-E) narrative. He acknowledges diverse inputs from the broader Hellenistic culture. But in his “Crucial Bridge” he looks closely at the apparent E-E influences. read more »

Mark’s ending and Masada (& Elisha)

This may be nothing but another passing shape in a cloud, but has anyone else passingly wondered if there might be some relationship to Mark’s ending in the way the Jewish war ended at Masada? read more »