Many readers now are quite aware that I am no longer a ‘mythicist’ so I am not against James’ assertion that it is dying. But I’d like to state quite plainly that the lack of historical veracity for a figure of Jesus is still a problem that has yet to be adequately addressed by scholars. James might well be a part of the “mainstream academic fold” that ignores the question, accepting it based on old, dated methods but that doesn’t mean the question has gone away. As someone who is agnostic about the question of historicity, I believe that the question cannot be put to rest under scholars directly (as opposed to indirectly, so common in studies of the historical figure of Jesus) deal with the questions academically. This is what Carrier and I both hope to accomplish.
In other words, unlike those Zeitgeist mythicists, so dogmatic in their claims and parallelisms, historical Jesus agnostics (as I would label myself) are more concerned with coming to an answer using valid, critical methods. Carrier’s two volume work will address problems with current methodology in historical Jesus scholarship–something desperately needed. But his work also proposes a new method, utilizing mathematics. I don’t think its fair that James dismisses his methods out of hand, as something inappropriate for historical reconstruction, especially since he doesn’t seem to fully grasp it or understand how to use it. And I don’t think Hoffmann’s dismissal of it as irrelevant is useful either, since he first championed his methods and now rebukes them (due to his personal issues with Carrier or because of other issues, I cannot say). And what I know of Carrier’s method actually takes into account the current flaws in historical Jesus methods and does an amazing job correcting them precisely by checking all assertive (i.e., overstatements, hyperbole, etc…) claims that fail to support the data in an honest way.
In my volume, ed. with Thomas Thompson, the New Testament community is asked to directly address its own questions regarding historicity. It is not a book for mythicists, nor is it a mythicist book. It is a book which reopens the question of historicity back up for academia and, in a large way, readdresses the subject in a minimalist way. Are we actually asking appropriate questions when we ask them about a historical figure? Can that figure be recovered? Would it matter if he or she were? Are we failing to read the books of the New Testament the way they were meant to be read if we read them in search of historicity? And so forth. The book takes a stance, neither for or against historicity, but seeks only to ask scholars to take the time needed to validate their own presuppositions with the data. And if it cannot be done, I would ask that scholars recognize the validity of an agnostic position.
Filed under: Belief, Blog Memes, Defining Mythicism, Is This Not the Carpenter?, Jesus, Life, Minimalism, New Testament, Philosophy, Scholarship Tagged: | historical jesus, historicity, James McGrath, mythicism, R. Joseph Hoffmann, Richard Carrier