While teaching a class in Trinidad during the late 1960s Thomas Brodie found himself repeating a line he had heard from an experienced Dominican teacher in Rome, Peter Dunker:
the biblical account of Abraham was a story, a powerful meaningful story, but not historical.
His students challenged him. What did he mean by this? In Trinidad, with no-one else to ask, he was forced to rely upon his own studies in the library, to apply historical-critical methods in his need to keep ahead of his students.
His initial answer was to explain that the early chapters of Genesis, Creation to the Tower of Babel, did not reflect historical stories of real persons, but that the rest of Genesis, from Abraham on, was different and did appear to be recording the lives of real people.
But the more he studied and questioned, the harder Brodie found it to accept as historical even much of the remainder of Genesis and the primary history (Genesis to 2 Kings):
- Did Abraham and Sarah really have a child in their nineties?
- Could Moses and Joseph have really played such prominent roles in Egypt yet have left no trace in the Egyptian records?
- Jericho’s walls simply fell down flat?
- What facilities would be required for Solomon’s thousand wives and concubines?
- Above all: Solomon built such a magnificent temple yet not a trace of it was to be found by archaeologists?
Then the archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon established that the walls of Jericho had been demolished well before 2000 BCE, centuries before the supposed Exodus and time of Joshua.
Around the same time Trinidad was in political and social turmoil. The Church could not remain aloof. Demonstrators occupied the Catholic Cathedral and denounced an economic system that exploited the poor.
Some called for the demonstrators to be expelled the way Jesus had expelled the money-changers from the Temple. The demonstrators said they were in the role of Jesus expelling the wicked. Saint Paul was declared to be on the side of the revolutionaries: “He who does not work, let him not eat.” But Paul was also, Brodie comments, on the side of the oppressors. The motive of his charity was nothing but an example of Christian manipulation,
to heap fire on the person who received it. The Irish priests were an extension of the British Empire. (p. 22)
Yet one thing seemed bedrock secure. Jesus’ historical existence. Continue reading “Making of a Mythicist, Act 1, Scene 2”