Tag Archives: Philip R. Davies

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

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 »

Bringing two recent posts together: Philip Davies and Life of Brian

Speaking of Jesus and Brian, and with Philip R. Davies still very much in mind, here is a quote from Philip Davies’ contribution to that volume:

This little detail … leads me to ask whether any details of the traditions of Jesus of Nazareth are historically true — bearing in mind that traditions are all we have. . . . .

The modern scholarly Jesus biographer tries to convert traditions like these [e.g. the betrayal by Judas] into historical facts, and theological explanations into historical ones. The outcome is instructive: a plurality of Jesuses, among whom are a charismatic holy man (Vermes), deluded prophet (Schweitzer), Cynic (Crossan), revolutionary (Brandon), incarnate deity (any number, including N. T. Wright). In making these reconstructions the biographer also has to decide whether, as in the case of Q (if there was a Q), anything but the words ascribed to Jesus mattered or, as with Paul, it was really only his death (and you can’t get much more different than that!). The plurality of ancient and modern Jesuses gives Christian believers more choice than they probably want, but in this age of consumer choice we should not expect too much complaint.

Davies, P.R., 2015. “The Gospel of Brian” in: Taylor, J.E. (Ed.), Jesus and Brian Exploring the Historical Jesus and his Times via Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. pp. 87f

Philip R. Davies on Jesus mythicism

I have just been reminded (thank you David Fitzgerald) that Philip R. Davies also was one of the very few mainstream scholars to actually publish the view that the Jesus myth theory ought at least to be taken seriously. Davies himself did not subscribe to it but he did acknowledge its reasonableness.

See his article Did Jesus Exist? published on Bible and Interpretation in 2012. Some quotes (my bolding):

I … have often thought how a ‘minimalist’ approach might transfer to the New Testament, and in particular the ‘historical Jesus’, who keeps appearing to New Testament scholars in different guises.

So have I. I regret not ever having the opportunity to discuss the question with Philip Davies personally. In fact my own views on the question of Jesus’ historicity are grounded in the the “minimalist” approach that I first learned through In Search of Ancient Israel (see previous post).

I don’t think, however, that in another 20 years there will be a consensus that Jesus did not exist, or even possibly didn’t exist, but a recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability. In the first place, what does it mean to affirm that ‘Jesus existed’, anyway, when so many different Jesuses are displayed for us by the ancient sources and modern NT scholars? Logically, some of these Jesuses cannot have existed. So in asserting historicity, it is necessary to define which ones (rabbi, prophet, sage, shaman, revolutionary leader, etc.) are being affirmed—and thus which ones deemed unhistorical. In fact, as things stand, what is being affirmed as the Jesus of history is a cipher, not a rounded personality (the same is true of the King David of the Hebrew Bible, as a number of recent ‘biographies’ show).

 

Tribute to an Influential Scholar – Philip R. Davies

Philip R. Davies

Philip R. Davies has died. Philip Davies was a major influence on my own understanding of the origins and history of ancient Israel, including the origins and nature of the Hebrew Bible. I understand that his book, In Search of Ancient Israel, was groundbreaking in that it influenced the way many of his peers came to view the “primary history” found in the Old Testament books Genesis to 2 Kings. My understanding as an outside amateur is that he brought together various ideas that had received little attention prior to 1991 and challenged the assumptions and fallacious reasoning underpinning traditional scholarly ideas about what was labelled “biblical Israel”.

Many readers may already have seen my webpage that I began with several pages setting out the argument of his book, In Search of Ancient Israel.

I never finished those posts. When I came to write about his views on who wrote the biblical books and why, and how the details of the biblical myth arose, I found myself branching out into much wider reading, including more recent publications by Davies, discovering competing theses — and I am still engaged in those explorations. I have Philip Davies to thank for these discoveries and ongoing journey.

Davies was part of known to be part of a group of scholars known as (derogatively) “the minimalists”. Some referred to it as the Copenhagen School. Two of the other pillars of this group were Thomas L. Thompson and Niels Peter Lemche. I have posted about their works many times on this blog. Traditional scholars sometimes viewed their work as being cynically sceptical. I viewed it as sound, fundamental scholarship. Read, for example, the approach set out in The Bible — History or Story?  and Common Sense and Credulity. I copy the first of these here. See it onsite if it is too small to read below.

Some readers may recognize the argument there from many posts on Vridar. It expresses what I consider to be the fundamentals of sound historical inquiry and scholarly treatment of evidence. (The logic expressed applies equally to the approach to the New Testament books, I believe — but that is a step too far for many.)

Some books by Davies that I enjoyed reading, some of which I continue to use as regular references . . . .

Thank you, Philip R. Davies.

 

 

God’s Mass Deportation Policy

“The Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Oil on board, 1563. The Tower of Babel symbolises the division of mankind by a multitude of tongues provided through heavenly intervention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Thus saith the word of the Lord. Genesis 11:1-9.

And so here we are today, speaking our language in our bit of real estate. It all sounds sort of cute, but a book that’s been around for a little while now jolted me by bringing to my attention what quite likely inspired the imagination of the author of this tale. read more »

In Search of Ancient Israel

In 1992 Philip Davies published a monograph that began a heated controversy over the origins of the Bible and what light archaeology shed on this question. Davies criticized conventional biblical scholarship for lacking the rigour found in archaeological studies of sites without theological significance. He argued that the archaeological evidence suggested that the Bible was composed as late as the Persian era and that the stories of Abraham, the Exodus, David and Solomon were mythical inventions. I have begun to summarize the argument of Davies’ book, In Search of Ancient Israel.

Book details: Davies’ In search of ancient Israel (Sheffield, 1997)

Neil Godfrey


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