The reason that the mythtics are determined to hide the evidence under their bed and then ask where it is seems to come from the darker regions of intentionality. So let me be direct.
It is important to them that Jesus should not exist. It is important to them in a way that the existence of Proclus or Anacreon or Alcibiades or even Socrates is not. The mythtics don’t want history, they want a victory. They don’t want serious discussion or best interpretation, they want to score points.
My goal is to not disparage this entire book as one might hope. I do think that given the breadth of scholars involved, it deserves some measure of attention. Now that it is in paperback form, it is more acce$$ible to the average reader than the previous hardcover incarnation.
I am not going to review every essay, but after having read through many of them, there are a few I want to call attention too. This first one is also the first essay in the book and it is written by none other than Dr. Jim West. Titled truthfully as A (Very, Very) Short Introduction to Minimalism, West takes us on what he considers the biblical norm for reading Scripture not as history but as a theological treatise.
I must agree with West that an “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’ Indeed, we are not really absent of evidence when it comes to the historical Jesus, although we are absent the evidence some have set as the high bar they now require.1 Further, I agree that the biblical norm was not a desire to replicate historical facts simply in a proto-David McCullough form but the biblical writers sought to provide what is anachronistically called theology. West declares, “It was not ‘history’ that mattered, but ‘theology.’
He goes on to list the issues with the Synoptics — how Luke truncated Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. He doesn’t mention, because maybe he doesn’t agree, that Matthew could have easily made this up wholesale in the first place. He likewise mentions Paul’s focus only on the theological implications of Jesus rather than painstakingly scoping out and detailing the life of Jesus, as many 18th, 19th, and 20th century liberal theologians have done. I wonder why West does not mention Paul’s use of allegory for the story of Abraham as a sure sign of the lack of historical concern. In the end, he declares ‘minimalism is not a new phenomenon.’ He is correct, if we define minimalism as a concern for uninterpreted history (a distinctively new phenomenon) superseded by the theological truths of the community.
My concern here is that West seems willing to forgo historical criticism about the context of construction, surrendering any historical claims (for instance, Jesus was killed at the order of Pilate) as examinable. While West is no post-modern follower of Kristeva, his approach seems to me to amount to nearly the same. It is not about the author, but about the interpretation by the later reader. My fear is, if we remove the author and thus world of the author from our examination before interpretation, what good is the interpretation?
West has some solid points, and is first and foremost a theologian in this regard. This is not a terrible thing as some may suspect. His intentions are not motivated by a desire to protect some document imposed with inerrancy, but to maintain what Christian Tradition has generally maintained — the theological underpinning of Scripture. Of course, those who deny the authenticity of the Historical Jesus may see this and agree with West as for some of them, Jesus is no less a theological construct than Moses or David.
We might say that mythicism is an argument from silence ↩
James McGrath has a post up responding to recent posts in response to his review of Thomas L. Brodie‘s recent memoir recounting his years of academia and announcing he is a mythicist. I encourage you to read it.
In the same way, Brodie insightfully detects some places where a passage in the New Testament probably was directly inspired by or retelling an earlier story from the Jewish Scriptures. Where it goes wrong is where this is insisted upon as being the case everywhere, even in the very many places where the connections are slim and/or tangential.
I firmly believe in the literary connection established between the New and the Old (even between books in the New, and not just the Gospels). However, such a connection does not preclude the existence of Jesus. Why? Because if you examine the types of rewritten Scripture, and how it was used — how it is used today when we do it — Scripture served as a contextualizing tool. It was their language.
This is where, I think, social memory (hence Le Donne and Keith in the title to this post) studies should come in. It can help to draw out contextualizing forces. I mean, look how Hillel was contextualized as a new Moses after his death. They used Scripture.
I’m busy today, and I’m not going to write too much here; however, my hypothesis is this. What you name a child is important to that child and the more so in times of social crisis. I listened to an African-American preacher talk about the rise of names for children in their community after the death of MLK. Many were named Martin. Why? Because they wanted their child to be the next MLK. Think of the Robert E. Lees and Abrahams after the War Between the States. It wasn’t just a way to honor their heroes, after all.
The book to your left is about about the role Jerusalem has played in Western imagination. Anyway, the author hints at (maybe in the book on in an audio of a speech I heard) the role the name Abraham played in shaping Lincoln.
Controversial moment: There is a connection between how Tamerlan Tsarnaev was named and what he did.
It is not unlikely, nor improbable to have a person named “Yeshua” during this time. Nor is it improbable given what we know about how names affect you that Yeshua may have grown up with a certain zeal to “save his people from their sins” (i.e., the sins that led to the new exile). Further, it is not improbable to have Yeshua place himself as an Elijah/Elisha — the Prophet to bring about the Messianic Age. There is nothing in Brodie’s literary work to reach back to the Historical Jesus (as far as I can tell) because literary works are demonstrably different than reality because literary works contextualize.1
What we do know — and I would like to see this employed in tracing out trajectories of early Christianities — is that the community who took up Yeshua after his probable death (and improbable resurrection) was steeped in the Jewish holy writings. There is no reason not to use them to promote their sect. That is what we do, even today, is to appeal to Scripture to validate ourselves. In doing so, the more intertwined with Scripture the continued validation of the Historical Jesus became, the less apparent the Historical Jesus became…er… what?
Anyway, I said I was busy so I have to run. There you go. Read the various posts McGrath links too.
Note, this is a generalization about ancient writing styles and even some modern linguistic studies ↩
Update – Neil believes the fandom bit is about him and is a swipe — because he thinks everything is a swipe against him. In speaking about fandom, I am referring to myself.
My new best buddy Neil has written a bit on my acceptance of Thomas Brodie‘s work in my book, Mimetic Criticism. I called Brodie’s work a masterpiece among other things. When Brodie first announced, I considered retracting those comments, but I felt like it would be unfair. I had not read Brodie’s book (still haven’t). But the books I did read (Birthing the New Testament, Crucial Bridge) I thought and still think are monumental books. So why would I change my mind about his work which was relevant to my work?
Of course, the first few pages of Dennis MacDonald’s book (the one where he suggests Mark used Homer), are brilliant. Guess what? You don’t have to agree with someone’s conclusions in order to appreciate, learn from, or even accept their methodology.
Neil, I am at a loss for how to handle Brodie’s mythicism and I must admit it has made me reconsider the intellectual prowess of some mythicists. I haven’t read Brodie’s latest and might later so I cannot fully comment on my friend McGrath’s review.
I will stand by my remarks, which were written when his book was announced. I made the choice to go ahead and go with with them, even knowing what Brodie was going to say. (I had spoken with a someone who’d read the book in pre-pub)
As I said with DM, I can say about TB. His conclusions I do not support, but his methodology, research, and forward thinking ideas are gigantic and worthy of admiration. Brodie’s book, Birthing the NT, is outstanding, and I would use it in any NT class I taught. I do not think we should do Gospel Criticism without at the very least a long, heavy gaze towards Brodie’s work.
As I have stated in the recent past, the origin of the fact does not dismiss the fact. Brodie’s work on literary criticism of the New Testament has presented us a positive methodology, even if I disagree with his conclusions on the historical person of Jesus. I even disagree with some conclusions he has reached on the literary spring of the New Testament. But, this is the key to being an open-minded thinker. You do not have to accept every thing to accept some things. It is not an all or nothing world.
Overprecision — excessive confidence in the accuracy of our beliefs — can have profound consequences, inflating investors’ valuation of their investments, leading physicians to gravitate too quickly to a diagnosis, even making people intolerant of dissenting views.
That’s a difficult question for many to read. It could mean, possibly, this author believes Jesus was not real or at least has doubts as to the existence of a Jesus. And maybe that is why the question is put the way it is. After all, it is less of…
‘Abraham’ refers to the father of multitudes and is derived from the biblical character [father] Abraham (Gen 12ff). The ‘Abraham’ character is a symbol of plentitude and fruitfulness. Applied to the Lincoln myth, ‘Abraham’ refers to a founding father who creates new people or new nations through abolition (read, ‘abe-lincoln’). In this case, ‘Abraham Lincoln’ describes the liberation of a slave class and the founding of the United States of America. The picture is beautiful allegory, really, but not to be taken literally. . . . In religio-mythic lore, Abraham is a common character among the people of the book–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is no surprise that an American-ized myth should arise as the U.S. is a ‘new nation’ with a broadly Judeo-Christian background. Biblical stories have a well-spring for its American myths.”
You get the humor, right?
Yes, that’s right — mythicists are silly little people… like Young Earth Creationists and the little guy in Korea who had to leave the United States.
But, this is just another in a long line of mythicist tripe using baseless “notions,” boundless imaginations, and conspiracy hacks to peddle this or that drug-induced idea. Joseph Atwill suggests Jesus is a figment of the Roman imagination, whereby the authors conspired to use a created Jesus to subdue the Jews. Others suggest that all of recent history is under the control of the Piso family, the remnants of the Flavians. This one, recently pointed out to me (HT to DM via FB), is completely crazy. Wait, I mean, I’m looking at Atwill and Ellis and Piso together… all are completely crazy.
And here’s the problem. My book, I am afraid and I admit so in the book, suggests that the Gospel is used to counter Flavian imperial ideology. But, I believe we can tag this to a real, live, historical Jesus. While Mark uses literary sources (Matthew uses Mark and some undefined sources, Luke used Matthew and Mark while John takes a heavy shot of theological reflection and uses the Synoptics) this doesn’t mean that the story of Jesus if made-up from the ground up. What this means, I would propose, is that the choices of literary sources indicate Mark’s theological or ideological implication.
In those disciplines where most researchers do not master mathematics, the use of mathematics may be held in too much awe. To demonstrate this I conducted an online experiment with 200 participants, all of which had experience of reading research reports and a postgraduate degree (in any subject). Participants were presented with the abstracts from two published papers (one in evolutionary anthropology and one in sociology). Based on these abstracts, participants were asked to judge the quality of the research. Either one or the other of the two abstracts was manipulated through the inclusion of an extra sentence taken from a completely unrelated paper and presenting an equation that made no sense in the context. The abstract that included the meaningless mathematics tended to be judged of higher quality. However, this “nonsense math effect” was not found among participants with degrees in mathematics, science, technology or medicine.
The wandering prophet was, of course, Jesus Christ. Atwill, a self-taught biblical scholar, contends that not only was there no historical figure of that name, but also the legends that accumulated around him were actually created by the Romans as a way of pacifying the Jews. The evidence is overwhelming, he says. (Here.)
Atwill is a mythicist, and like most (I have to say most now because of Thomas Brodie) mythicists, he likes to pretend he is a scholar. He is a “self-taught” scholar, but not because he could not afford school, but because he did not like what anyone would teach him. So, he entered the fray, self-published a horribly documented book, and is not self-producing, no doubt, an equally horribly documented snuff film. On his site, he declares:
This latest ground-breaking work in Christian scholarship reveals a new and revolutionary understanding of the origin of Christianity, explaining what is the New Testament, who is the real Jesus, and how Christ’s second coming already occurred. The book Caesar’s Messiah shows that Jesus was the invention of the Roman Imperial Court. Their purpose: to offer a vision of a “peaceful Messiah” who would serve as an alternative to the revolutionary leaders who were rocking first-century Israel and threatening Rome. This discovery is based on the parallels found between the Gospels and the works of the historian Josephus, which occur IN SEQUENCE.
He’s the problem… he doesn’t do “Christian scholarship.” In fact, he doesn’t do scholarship. There is nothing peaceful either about Paul’s letters (save Romans 13) (pre-70 war); nor the Book of Revelation, nor the Gospels themselves. All are counter-imperial, counter-cultural. He also makes the claim that Josephus was a family member of the Flavians. No. There is sharing between Wars and the Gospels, but not in sequence, and not for a peaceful means. The sharing is common, and any reader of this blog over the past two years understand what I mean. I simply do not have the time to head into every one of this points – because they are pointless. Simply put, Atwill is another in the long line of pseudo-scholars who claim to know it all without any actual evidence to support themselves or their work – who some how have found “lost history.”
I have to wonder though, just how much money he made before the dot-com bubble collapsed and can we blame the Bush years on him?