Defining Mythicism: The Signs Gospel and the Figure of Jesus

James McGrath highlights a post by the blog Synoptic Solutions on the Signs Gospel and the figure of Jesus.  I tend to think the post is a little ridiculous.  Here is the offending snippet:

In the Signs Gospel, Jesus is not being portrayed as a god on earth. Instead, he is portrayed as very human–a miraculous human, but a human nonetheless. Like the rabbis, he is not quite historical, yet he is not mythical, either. Instead, he is legendary. And so I propose that this is the correct model for understanding the historical Jesus. He is a legendary figure–but that does not mean he is an imaginary figure. Indeed, it means just the opposite: it means that he was most certainly historical.

There are several problems with this statement overall (e.g., the so-called Signs Gospel itself, the certainty of the claims being made about the Signs Gospel, portrayal of Jesus, the problems associated with Gos. of John, claims about the historicity of the figure of Jesus, and so on). First, and most importantly, the ‘Signs Gospel’ is hypothetical.  Like the sayings Gospel ‘Q’, the Signs Gospel is little more than a collected group of events (re: miraculous works) compiled by certain scholars (some who fall into line with confessional theology) as to seemingly avoid the problems associated with dependency (that is to say, that the Gospels are not independent traditions based upon eyewitness testimony); and we all know there are several very good (I would say ‘unassailable’) reasons to stop pretending ‘Q’ exists (ahem…).  For those unfamiliar with the Signs Gospel and the proposed value of the Gos. of John in historical Jesus studies, according to D. Moody Smith remarks (Johannine Christianity, p. 63):

“It is now rather widely agreed that the Fourth Evangelist drew upon a miracle tradition or written source(s) substantially independent of the synoptics, whether or not he had any knowledge of one or more of those gospels. Since the epoch-making commentary of Rudolf Bultmann, the hypothesis of a semeia- (or miracle) source has gained rather wide acceptance.”

And:

“Whether such a miracle source can be precisely isolated and identified, as Bultmann and some who follow him think, is a question we need not decide here. The demonstration of the existence of a source (or sources) is not entirely dependent upon the possibility of isolating it with certainty and precision throughout the Gospel.”

The problem with D.M. Smith’s statement is that I am not so sure it is as ‘widely agreed’ that John used the Signs Gospel as he makes it appear (I will also not get into his other apologetic-esque comments here; Crossley does a good job of that in the article mentioned below).   I am not sure what is taking place with the John, Jesus, and History Project (JJH) via the SBL, but just judging from James Crossley’s paper (forthcoming in my volume with Thomas L. Thompson) it seems that suggesting that Jesus was a historical figure based upon this Gospel is a difficult task indeed (if not entirely futile, despite what the JJH project suggests).  One has to make gross presuppositions about the state of the evidence (i.e. you have to start from the conclusion that the Gospels present accurate representations of the historical Jesus first, which is a position that runs rather counter to historical-critical methods).   In addition, the Gos. of John might actually not have been composed until sometime in the early second century (but no later than the p52’s terminus ad quem, c. 150 CE), rather than at the turn of that century as it was once thought.

Though, even if it had been written earlier, like around the turn of the second century CE, it does not follow that one can judge the figure of Jesus, let alone propose a whole new model (!), based solely on a single narrative and hypothetical document.  It seems rather presumptuous, if not downright arrogant, to suggest firmly (and with such certainty!) that Jesus was indeed historical from the most miraculous, ludicrous, and late of the canonical Gospels.  And to top it off, the author begs us to presume the existence of a hypothetical document as secondary evidence for his position!

While it might be that the Gospels are legendary, mythologized narratives about a historical person, it is folly to ignore all existing narratives besides the Gos. of John whilst making the outrageous claim that Jesus was a historical figure, mythologized.  This is nothing more than begging the question: if all of these factors (Signs Gospel did exist as a source for John, John did have source material from an eyewitness, tradition stemmed from a historical core, John is the primary witness to historical tradition, etc…) are true, Jesus was a historical figure, mythologized (essentially amounting to nothing more than the Chewbacca Defense: “Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!”).  But as the song goes, “well, that’s a far cry from the truth.”  We can only say so much from the evidence.  And when one is proposing a hypothetical document, even one that is largely accepted, the proposal can only be hypothetical (as a conclusion can only be as strong as the evidence).  To a large extent, this does prove, quite directly, that there are instances of bias in historical Jesus scholarship and with the question over historical value of the canonical Gospels.

Although there is hardly much need for additional evidence; it is clear that historical Jesus scholarship has its own share of failings.  Crossley notes, for example (and do read the whole article):

[T]he study of the historical Jesus is overwhelmingly concerned with fact finding, description and descriptive interpretation in its various forms, with little concern for questions such as why the Jesus movement emerged when and where it did and why this movement subsequently led to a new religion. By Eric Hobsbawm’s standards (see epigraph) most of these historical Jesus writers would come perilously close to being guilty of ‘antiquarian empiricism’ and more than one historical Jesus scholar might be guilty of writing what Hobsbawm dismissed as the ‘Victorian tome’ so typical of biography.

Aside from these challenges, there are numerous other problematic oversights in the post.  The author blogs the similarities of the miraculous signs from Greco-Jewish traditions but ignores those similar motifs found in the Hebrew Bible.  Where is the discussion or even mention of the same trope found in Ps. 107:23-30?

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

I would note as well that Ps. 107 contains other miraculous forms of redemption, through healing of the sick, and the feeding of the multitude (part of the ‘Signs’ which some believe came from this hypothetical source):

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

And of course, one cannot forget the play of the Elisha/Elijah narratives at work in the miracle scenes.  The calming of the storm also has roots in Elijah’s challenge to the Baal worshipers, where Yahweh is portrayed as a God who has control over the storms, in direct conflict with Baal, another storm God.  The feeding of the multitude motif can also be found in the Elisha/Elijah narratives (2 Kings 4:38-41 with Elisha’s magic flour, and with Elijah 1 Kings 17:8-16), as is the healing of the sick/resurrection of the dead miracle stories (i.e., 1 Kings 17:17-24 where Elijah raised the widow’s son and Elisha and the Shunamite woman’s son in 2 Kings 4:18-37).  These miracle stories need not come from another hypothetical source (as fictional as it might indeed be), but from long-held tropes and motifs found in ancient Jewish literature.  John’s ability to take Mark’s Gospel and build upon it is not unknown.

On the subject of absorbing Mark wholly, the author also uses a bit of hyperbole when he states “since we know the Markan author used SG as a source.”  In fact, since these miracles are found in the Hebrew Bible, Mark’s source is probably also the scriptures.  There is no need to fabricate an entirely hypothetical Gospel just to account for the motifs.  And John need only have a copy of Mark, Matthew, and Luke to build upon the scenes (which many believe he did).  The best example for this is the scene at the tomb of Jesus.  Richard Carrier explains it (go to the link for a footnoted version):

So we start with Mark. It is little known among the laity, but in fact the ending of Mark, everything after verse 16:8, does not actually exist in the earliest versions of that Gospel that survive. It was added some time late in the 2nd century or even later. Before that, as far as we can tell, Mark ended at verse 16:8. But that means his Gospel ended only with an empty tomb, and a pronouncement by a mysterious young man that Jesus would be seen in Galilee–nothing is said of how he would be seen. This was clearly unsatisfactory for the growing powerful arm of the Church a century later, which had staked its claim on a physical resurrection, against competing segments of the Church usually collectively referred to as the Gnostics (though not always accurately). So an ending was added that quickly pinned some physical appearances of Jesus onto the story, and for good measure put in the mouth of Christ rabid condemnations of those who didn’t believe it. But when we consider the original story, it supports the notion that the original belief was of a spiritual rather than a physical event. The empty tomb for Mark was likely meant to be a symbol, not a historical reality, but even if he was repeating what was told him as true, it was not unusual in the ancient world for the bodies of heroes who became gods to vanish from this world: being deified entailed being taken up into heaven, as happened to men as diverse as Hercules and Apollonius of Tyana, and Mark’s story of an empty tomb would simply represent that expectation.

A decade or two passes, and then Matthew appears. As this Gospel tells it, there was a vast earthquake, and instead of a mere boy standing around beside an already-opened tomb, an angel–blazing like lightning–descended from the sky and paralyzed two guards that happened to be there, rolled away the stone single handedly before several witnesses–and then announced that Jesus will appear in Galilee. Obviously we are seeing a clear case of legendary embellishment of the otherwise simple story in Mark. Then in Matthew a report is given (similar to what was later added to Mark), where, contrary to the angel’s announcement, Jesus immediately meets the women that attended to his grave and repeats what the angel said. Matthew is careful to add a hint that this was a physical Jesus, having the women grovel and grab his feet as he speaks.

Then, maybe a little later still, Luke appears, and suddenly what was a vague and perhaps symbolic allusion to an ascension in Mark has now become a bodily appearance, complete with a dramatic reenactment of Peter rushing to the tomb and seeing the empty death shroud for himself. As happened in Matthew, other details have grown. The one young man of Mark, which became a flying angel in Matthew, in this account has suddenly become two men, this time not merely in white, but in dazzling raiment. And to make the new story even more suspicious as a doctrinal invention, Jesus goes out of his way to say he is not a vision, and proves it by asking the Disciples to touch him, and then by eating a fish. And though both Mark and Matthew said the visions would happen in Galilee, Luke changes the story, and places this particular experience in the more populous and prestigious Jerusalem.

Finally along comes John, perhaps after another decade or more. Now the legend has grown full flower, and instead of one boy, or two men, or one angel, now we have two angels at the empty tomb. And outdoing Luke in style, John has Jesus prove he is solid by showing his wounds, and breathing on people, and even obliging the Doubting Thomas by letting him put his fingers into the very wounds themselves. Like Luke, the most grandiose appearances to the Disciples happen in Jerusalem, not Galilee as Mark originally claimed. In all, John devotes more space and detail than either Luke or Matthew to demonstrations of the physicality of the resurrection, details nowhere present or even implied in Mark. It is obvious that John is trying very hard to create proof that the resurrection was the physical raising of a corpse, and at the end of a steady growth of fable, he takes license to make up a lot of details.

I had thought we were moving away from such cut-and-paste mentalities in scholarship; how is the Signs Gospel that much different than Thomas Jefferson’s New Testament?  Sure, we can make Jesus anything we want just by trimming out the miraculous bits and combining all the instances where a particular motif or trope holds sway, calling it the hypothetical ‘Whatever Gospel’, and get people to sign off on the idea.  The problem with this is quite simple: it removes context and as I have shown it allows for the collector of these verses, the redactor of this new hypothetical text, to ignore very important subcontexts, narrative functions, and intertextuality in the original text.

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16 Responses

  1. Thanks for your interesting comments on my blog post.

    One thing you should realize is that this is part six of a series I”ve written on the Signs Gospel and the Gospel of Mark (http://synopticsolutions.blogspot.com/search/label/Signs%20in%20GMk), and in the earlier parts I’ve shown how one can strip away a redaction layer from GMk to find an underlying layer that resembles the Signs Gospel. Perhaps I have used just a little hyperbole to describe my findings, but this is just a rhetorical device; I’m just leading the reader through the argument.

    I’m also aware of the many OT parallels to the events of the gospel
    narratives. As I said in my post, I’m ignoring the Elijan-Elishan
    parallels to see what other parallels exist. This would apply equally to
    any parallels found in Psalms, for example.

    My point is just that even if we take your assumptions at face value–that a Signs Gospel is unlikely, that GJn is late, and that the canonical
    Synoptics were John’s sources–the OT parallels to the miracles of Jesus are no more reason to suspect Jesus didn’t exist than they are reason to suspect that the Tanna didn’t exist. You yourself point to OT parallels to the miracles of Jesus, including the Signs. But if the Tanna were said to perform similar miracles, why shouldn’t we assume the Tanna didn’t exist, either? But we don’t. Hence I don’t see why I should assume Jesus didn’t exist, just because his miracles resemble various OT passages. The Tannaitic miracles resemble those OT passages, too, but we nevertheless assume they were real personages. All I’m doing is making the same assumption about Jesus.

    I do think my argument about the Signs Gospel as a source for GMk helps my case, but it isn’t necessary for my case.

    Nor is it necessary, as you suggest, to assume that GJn presents “accurate representations of the historical Jesus”; again, my argument is from legend, not history. The Tanna are presented in the Talmud as performing miracles, i.e. as legendary figures. But from this, we don’t conclude they were fictional and imaginary; we conclude they were historical. So if the Talmud is evidence for the historical Tanna, we can use even GJn–an earlier document than the Talmud–as evidence for a historical Jesus. This doesn’t mean any of the miracles really happened; it just means there was a historical figure behind the stories.

    the_cave

  2. “It seems rather presumptuous, if not downright arrogant, to suggest firmly (and with such certainty!) that Jesus was indeed historical from the most miraculous, ludicrous, and late of the canonical Gospels. And to top it off, the author begs us to presume the existence of a hypothetical document as secondary evidence for his position!”

    That’s pretty much the nutshell smackdown, if you ask me. This whole thing sounds like yet another attempt at special pleading. I really *want* Jesus to be real, so I get to prove it using my own methodology. It’s like… “Jesus was obviously real, so I get to use whichever methodology proves Jesus was obviously real.”

  3. Do historians of the ancient world outside New Testament studies ever do this kind of stuff with hypothetical documents and sources? If so, do they actually believe that they are engaged in anything more than conjecture?

  4. On the contrary: I make no assumptions about the existence of a historical Jesus. I am merely presenting the (somewhat interesting IMHO) results of my investigations. I have nothing invested in it, save for a desire to investigate history.

    Nor am I using any unusual methodology. That’s just my point: using nothing more than the same assumptions we make about the Tannaim described in the Talmud, I find no reason to assume Jesus was any less historical than the Tannaim. (Pardon my error in using the singular “Tanna” inappropriately in my comment above; I was writing quickly.) We might decide that the miracles of the Tannaim were ahistorical, but we don’t conclude as a result that the Tannaim were themselves historical. We just conclude their miracles were.

    It would certainly be absurd to assume that anyone who presents evidence for a historical Jesus must necessarily have presuppositions about his existence.

  5. Whoops, penultimate sentence of the comment above should read “We might decide that the miracles of the Tannaim were ahistorical, but we don’t conclude as a result that the Tannaim were themselves ahistorical. We just conclude their miracles were.”

    (Still getting used to this WordPress comments system. Isn’t there a preview function anywhere?)

  6. Did Elijah and Elisha exist?

    After all, we have miracle stories about them. That makes them legendary and so historical.

    Forgive me for being slow, but it is taking me a while to catch on to this new logic.

  7. Thank you, Steven! That’s exactly what I was thinking, and you put it into words.

    Were I a betting man, I’d imagine that someone will say that for some reason, there’s “positive” evidence that Elijah and Elisha didn’t exist. I don’t remember much about their stories, but since large swaths of the OT have been exposed as ahistorical, one might assume that characters from those stories were also ahistorical, in the same way that we don’t worry too much about Lilliputians since Lilliput is ahistorical.

    But that seems like a bit of a red herring to me. The same kind of speculative arguments could be used about Elijah and Elisha as are used for Jesus, and the historicity of the setting doesn’t seem to matter much. What if the writer of the Elijah story knew an old man who had a run-in with a bear while hiking in the woods with some kids? (Or was that Elisha… whatever…) What if his knowledge of the “Historical” Elijah influenced his writing of the ahistorical prophet of Israel?

    I just don’t see how any of this is more than speculation. Though admittedly, I’m not familiar enough with the Tannaim to make any comment about that. So maybe that’s what I’m missing.

  8. Cave, I am not sure who you really are (and I really don’t approve of anonymous bloggers since they cannot take responsibility for the things they say), but assuming you are someone of merit, I will state plainly that the argument ‘if the Talmud is evidence for the historical Tanna, we can use even GJn–an earlier document than the Talmud–as evidence for a historical Jesus’ is severely lacking. You are comparing apples to tomatoes. They are both fruit, as the Talmud and the Gospel of John are both ancient ‘literature’ (for lack of a better term, though I use it as Teresa Morgan defines it), but they have distinct differences that should never be ignored. As a historian, it is not only folly to judge one piece of text based upon another, but dangerous. They need to be analyzed upon their own merits first. Why were they written? What genre do they intend to imitate? What value do they each hold individually, both historically and mimetically? Have you analyzed these questions? Asked them at all? If so, where? And what conclusions did you draw? Did you deal with and engage the pressing academic literature on the subject (i.e., Mary Anne Tolbert, Charles H. Talbert, Michael Vines, Thomas L. Thompson, Thomas L. Brodie [note it is not ‘Michael], Richard Bauckham, etc…)? Making such a broad accusation against the literature ignores decades of literary criticism, textual criticism, credible methodology for dealing with ancient texts, and so on. Just with the Talmud, you have a collection of works, which underwent a defined and clear evolution, with polemics against Christians, against gentiles, against other Jewish traditions. You have genres within genres written for different purposes and different theological and exegetical goals. And you miss the whole underpinning of cultural/virtural memory and the ancient mythic mind. Have you even considered the social implications of your claims? I doubt it.

    Your other statement, ‘The Tannaitic miracles resemble those OT passages, too, but we nevertheless assume they were real personages. All I’m doing is making the same assumption about Jesus.’, is blatantly false. Do we assume the historicity of Job? Tobit? Judith? What of Abraham? Joshua? I would be able to provide more than enough scholarly evidence against the historicity of most of the events in the Hebrew Bible, and I’m sure I could direct you to the appropriate scholars if you had doubts. Assuming ‘real personages’ is the worst mistake one can make in the field. You must take everything on a case by case basis. Nothing should simply be assumed or taken for granted.

    Finally, ‘This doesn’t mean any of the miracles really happened; it just means there was a historical figure behind the stories.’ is also hyperbole. In some instances, based upon the evidence, a claim can be made that the miraculous stories hide a historical figure. But not in every case and the evidence in the case of the figure of Jesus is simply not that good, despite what you’d have readers believe. I’ve made my case elsewhere on this blog, you can check this post for the relevant articles. Please consider what I’m saying; you just have not made a case.

  9. It seems the Cave is the guy who wrote the article you are addressing Tom. Concerning,

    //Your other statement, ‘The Tannaitic miracles resemble those OT passages, too, but we nevertheless assume they were real personages. All I’m doing is making the same assumption about Jesus.’, is blatantly false. Do we assume the historicity of Job? Tobit? Judith? What of Abraham? Joshua?//

    I’ll let Cave be the final judge of what he meant, but I took from the context that he assumes the Tanna were historical not the OT personages.

    Whether there is any scholarly debate on whether the Tanna are real rabbis or legendary inventions, i don’t know.

    //compiled by certain scholars (some who fall into line with confessional theology)//

    Should we add this qualifier to all scholarship for which this may apply? Should we label all the possible sources of bias in our scholars so papers should have the identifiers of the writers race, ethnicity, gender, political and religious affiliations?

  10. I’ll let Cave be the final judge of what he meant, but I took from the context that he assumes the Tanna were historical not the OT personages.

    Whether there is any scholarly debate on whether the Tanna are real rabbis or legendary inventions, i don’t know.

    Fair enough. I retract this criticism directly, though I leave it indirectly as the point does still remain.

    Should we add this qualifier to all scholarship for which this may apply? Should we label all the possible sources of bias in our scholars so papers should have the identifiers of the writers race, ethnicity, gender, political and religious affiliations?

    Dear Mike, you know this is not meant as an accusation, there is no need to get defensive. My concern here is that there is a difference between being religious and doing history appropriately and being religious and doing history as to set out to validate the doctrine in which you ascribe. When you are a part of a theological institution who condemns any sort of exegesis except that which furthers the doctrines ideals (and if you don’t bad things happen, like in this case, or this case, or this one to name a few), what really comes from that? What valuable insight can really stem from such narrowed thinking? And keep in mind I go after certain atheists and secularists with just such criticisms.

  11. @Steven Carr: hi Steve. See Mike Wilson’s distinction between the Nevi’im (OT prophets) and the Tannaim (Mishnaic Rabbis and sages). I’d be happy to explicate my reasoning further if need be.

    @Tom Verenna–no problem; I intend to go public with my persona very soon anyway. And I of course take full responsibility for everything I’ve written on my blog. I’ve always expected it to be associated with my name someday. (Nor am totally unknown in person, having met and corresponded with various scholars both professional and amateur. You should also not make the mistake of thinking my blog is very popular…)

    You’re of course quite correct to point out that GJn and the Talmud are very different documents. This is why I think my argument about the Signs Gospel (SG) strengthens my case; SG turns out to curiously imitate, or otherwise resemble, the Talmudic literature (though of course there are still some very important differences). I am merely noting that even leaving SG aside, GJn still contains all the signs (with their Talmudic parallels), and in an even earlier document than the Talmud(s) (by centuries). So if we can strip away legendary elements from the stories of the Talmud to discover a potentially historical core (as many Talmudic scholars think we can), why should this be impossible for GJn? It might be more difficult due to genre, but I don’t see why that makes it impossible.

    As for making broad accusations against the literature, if you’re trying to cite Tolbert, Vines, Brodie, et al in support of mythicism, that would surely be a mistake…

    Thanks for pointing out my error in linking to Thomas Brodie’s work; it was typographical error that I have now corrected.

    If the offense you seem to have taken is simply with my informally
    confident language about my hypotheses, I’m happy to entertain the suggestion that I may need to dial it back a bit. In my defense, I don’t see that there’s anything terribly wrong with it: I’m trying to write a blog, not an academic article (though I hope to eventually write those, too), and again my readership is fairly small. My goal is primarily to try out my ideas in the public arena, and to gain some experience in blogging that I previously lacked. I’m not sure why any “smackdown” language is necessary (though I don’t hold you responsible for that).

    Nevertheless, returning to the issue at hand, if we can’t assume any historical personages behind the miraculous figures of Late Second Temple and early Rabbinic Era Judaism, which of the Tannaim should I doubt the existence of? I am happy to consider any proposals, or to be directed towards relevant literature.

  12. I’d like to address your comments more thoroughly; that will happen tomorrow. I would like to just take a moment to make something clear:

    As for making broad accusations against the literature, if you’re trying to cite Tolbert, Vines, Brodie, et al in support of mythicism, that would surely be a mistake…

    You should know I’m not a mythicist. So it would be rather silly of me to argue that these individuals are mythicists. I don’t know their positions on the historicity of the figure of Jesus; well, all except one. Thomas L. Thompson is a good friend and colleague. I know he does consider himself a mythicist, though he probably falls more in line with my views, as an agnostic on the question.

  13. Tom, thanks for the clarification, I pass over books myself from sectarian seminaries and such or books that dedicate the work to the glory of Jesus or whatever. I had gotten the impression that such marginally religious types like Crossan or Funk were suspect in their logic because of some sort of spiritual thing they may have for Jesus.

    Not that I think their free of bias, and in fact i think Crossan and Funk have come some of their conclusions out of admiration for the subject of their study, but that is so common that i think it should form a criteria in all historians heads; that people are biased by what they are conditioned to like or dislike. but if crossan said he thought Jesus was buried in a shallow grave and eaten by dogs, I wouldn’t think “well of course he thinks that, he is a Christian after all.”

    Do you think there is away to identify faith driven institution scholarship from works that just happen to be made by someone who claims a religious faith?

  14. I quote http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crosstalk/message/5254 which talks about the methods used by professional historians’

    ‘But it is important to notice that nowhere through his book of 478
    pages does Fox ever build reconstructions of early Christianity or
    HJ on this hypothetical Q source. He is too well aware as a trained
    historian that you cannot build on a hypothetical text that we don’t
    even know the length and real extent of. ‘

    Of course, Robin Lane Fox is not a New Testament scholar , just trained historian, and so is not up to date with the latest methodologies of reading hypothetical texts and drawing conclusions from.

  15. Do you think there is away to identify faith driven institution scholarship from works that just happen to be made by someone who claims a religious faith?

    Yes. The easiest way to differentiate the two is by reading their methodology and their conclusions. That might seem vague, but it is pretty obvious to spot confessional theologians; they start with the conclusion and attempt to make the evidence fit–that is their methodology. ;-)

  16. Tom, by identify I mean label. When I talk about scholarly consensus, I am leaving out all the opinions from the folks who I suspect can only come to a limited number of conclusions, so if some one says what about x,y,z? what do I label this as?

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