Honor and Cheating Students

The American Scholar has an interesting article published on the increase of students cheating in their classes in order to get ahead.  Here is a snippet:

One of the gloomiest recent reports about the nation’s colleges and universities reinforces the suspicion that students are studying less, reading less, and learning less all the time: “American higher education is characterized,” sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa said last year, “by limited or no learning for a large proportion of students.” Their book, Academically Adrift, joins a widening, and often negative, reassessment of what universities contribute to American life. Even President Obama has gotten into the act, turning one problem with higher education into an applause line in his latest State of the Union address. “So let me put colleges and universities on notice,” he said: “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury—it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Where should we lay the blame for the worsening state of one of the foundations of American civilization, one that has long filled us with justifiable pride? The big public universities are already bogged down by diminishing financial support from the states; private education is imperiled by tuition costs that discourage hundreds of thousands of middle-class and poorer students from applying. Some schools have made heroic attempts to diversify their student bodies, but too little financial aid is available to make access possible for all the applicants with academic promise.

What is happening inside the classroom for those who do get in? Who is teaching the students? Less and less often it is a member of an institution’s permanent faculty, and rarer still one of its distinguished professors. More and more of the teaching has been parceled out to part-time instructors who have no hope of landing a full-time position. Because of this, their loyalty to the school that hired them, and to the students they will probably meet in just one course and never again, has diminished.

You should really go read the rest.  It is quite good.  Then come back here.

Back?  Good.  I’m reminded of a time last year in one of my classes when a student was clearly cheating on their work.  It was the first time I had ever really noticed it happening, and the sad thing about it was that the student clearly had no idea how obvious their cheating habits were.

One time he submitted a paper which included the links from the Wiki article he had copied it from; he had forgotten to remove them before submitting it!  As a fellow student I complained to the professor because I saw no public reaction.  In fact I wanted a public reaction.  I wanted the professor to openly call out the student for his blatant disregard for the work the rest of us had done.  It was frustrating and I wanted to know what the professor was going to do about it.

The professor wrote back only that he had spoken with the student privately and he assured me it was taken care of; there would be no more incidents.  But there were incidents.  The student became wise (well, so to speak) and instead started using websites without links.  The next paper they submitted had been taken directly from the website of a faculty member at another university.  But this time the student didn’t quote the whole paper, but block-quoted several parts with a few of their own sentences sporadically placed.  This time, I responded to this student directly–posting the link to the website the paper came from with a few remarks about plagiarizing.

The funny part was that the assignment had been to write about the Roman Republic; this student’s plagiarized paper was on the Roman Empire–evidence that the student (a) wasn’t reading and (b) was clueless about the difference.  But this only made my frustration worse; why wasn’t this student disciplined?   Were there not strict guidelines about academic integrity in the syllabus of the course?  I remember reading that the consequences of being caught plagiarizing were quite severe.  Yet there is no doubt in my mind the student submitted work on at least three occasions which had been clearly plagiarized.

Then this really got me thinking; I remember that line from the movie Accepted, where Lewis Black is talking about the purpose of college.  He says:

“College is a service industry….  As in “serve us,” as opposed to the other way around.  Look, you see all these kids out here?  They all paid to come here. They all paid for an experience.”

Essentially, college is there to educate us. But I think too many students, fresh out of High School with no real appreciation for the value of education, don’t understand that college is not the same as the grade school life they just left.  In practice, yes, they recognize they are on their own (sort of), that they will be moving away from home (in most instances), and that they will be responsible for motivating themselves (usually).  But they don’t realize that they are paying for something.  And what they are paying for isn’t of any interest to them.  It’s like having a membership to a gym that you never go to anymore.  Except this time, the annual fee is upwards of $25,000 a year.

The sad part is, as was stated in that one High Ed article of which I can’t remember the title, students are demanding less education but are paying more money.  It is the one thing in this economy (with the exception of perhaps Healthcare) we are paying more for something of which we demand less.  It is quite troubling.   And I don’t believe the faculty has the power to do much about it–not as much as the students (those of us who actually care about getting a solid education for the money we are paying into it).

Anyway, give the article some consideration.

Therefore Aliens…

io9 had an interesting article circulating today about alien abductees, their portraits (themselves and the images they have drawn of their encounters) and the stories they tell.  The stories seem to be very personal, but that is where my sympathy ends.  Clearly there is something wrong here; either a mental issue or a craving for attention…something is happening here.  The stories don’t make any sense, they are all different, and in the areas where they are the same they are most likely reflections upon stereotypical subjects (note how some of the aliens look identical–why?  Because they are portrayed that way in movies, television shows, comic books, and so on).  Here is the intro to the article (about the journalist/photographer):

Alien abductions make for a good sci-fi plot devices, but it’s easy to forget that we walk among people — in the real world — who claim to have been visited, beamed up and probed by little gray men.

New York photographer Steven Hirsch, 63, has met many of these people face to face. He visited this year’s International UFO Conference to meet, photograph and interview people who avow close contact with extraterrestrials.

Here are some of the examples of the stories (click through to see the faces and drawings that go with them):

Jeffrey

“It happened eleven years ago in St. Louis, Missouri at an exotic dancing bar. I went in there to just have a few drinks and look at some strip-girls dance around the pole. And this guy comes in out of nowhere and he was black in color but he had a very strange voice. And he knew things about me that no-one in the bar knew. Like how many trips I took. He knew things I was doing. He knew when my parents were going to die and what they were going to die of. Then he tells me he’s here to abduct me and replace forty nine chips [in my body].”

Sabastien

“It looked like a little kid except it had big eyes, it looked just like a little kid except it had big eyes, small nose and a little mouth. Albert EInstein was right about something. How there’s different dimensions and different realities and stuff. I’m thinking they went through time if you will you know. If they’re out there if they know all this and they have all this technology and all this stuff, what are the odds of them coming back you know?”

Vivian

“They said they had been coming to me ever since I was a child and they were not doing anything against my will and I used to be one of them and I had agreed to be this bridge between the pleiades. They had been teaching me things that I was supposed to bring through and teach to others here on Earth and I hadn’t been doing a very good job of it. So they were giving me a review of what they’d taught me. They were telling me things about cleaning up the environment, being nicer to each other and having more brotherly love. And also the big thing that was important to them was getting rid of nuclear power plants. They said it was contaminating the earth. And it also had the potential for harming them too.”

Jeanie

“I awakened in the middle of the night with feeling this weird heat down around my sexual area […] I could feel these long skinny bony fingers drawing circles on my right ovary and I felt the paralysis and I thought, ‘Oh shoot. they really are here. Oh, my God.’ I’m not sure how I saw them. If it was, you know, tuning in and seeing them on what level. So when I’m realizing they’re with me the energy feels different. It was totally unnerving to me to recognize that they really were visiting with me and I could see there was a smaller Grey on my right hand side and a slightly taller one on my left and I remember telepathing to the Grey, ‘Please stop doing that, I don’t want you to touch me.’ I asked him three times.”

via Cat People, Strippers, And Telekinesis: The Portraits And Testimonials Of Alien Abductees.

Oh no, don’t be fooled.  There are plenty more…

Carrier on Ehrman’s Dubious Replies (Part 2)

Another blow against Ehrman.  Frankly, I am still surprised some in the blogosphere are still supporting Ehrman on this.  Either there are some out there who do not recognize what constitutes a solid and sound argument or they are blinded by their own presuppositions.  Either way, it is disappointing.

Carrier’s conclusion:

In the end Ehrman ducks behind the “it was just a pop book, you shouldn’t expect it to be all accurate and the like” defense. This requires no reply. The reader can judge for themselves whether that excuse only makes the whole matter worse. (Can you imagine him accepting that excuse from any of the mythicists he attacks?) He also tries to play the victim card and claim I violated my own principle of interpretive charity. But in fact I did not. I gave him the benefit of a doubt everywhere an innocent explanation was conceivable, exactly as my principle requires (for example, I assumed that when he wrote “Justin of Tiberius” for Justus of Tiberias on p. 50 that that was a mere typo). But my principle also states (exactly as he himself quotes it) that when no such interpretation is plausible, we ought to point that out, so the author can correct their error. Which is exactly what I did.

Thus, his attempt to twist a rule of interpretive charity into a monstrous absurdity doesn’t cut it, and only exposes how poor a grasp he has of logical reasoning. Authors don’t get to say the exact opposite of what they meant and then claim it is our responsibility to telepathically know that that is what happened. Authors don’t get to say things that clearly indicate they badly mishandled their sources, and then claim we are always to assume they never do that. Authors don’t get to say things that clearly indicate they didn’t check their facts, and then claim we are always to assume they nevertheless did. Indeed, as his own quote of me says, if you cannot reconcile a contradiction or error in my work, you should call me on it so I can correct myself. Well, I called him on it.

via Ehrman’s Dubious Replies (Round Two) | Richard Carrier Blogs.

Go read his post to see how he got there.

Carrier on Ehrman’s Response to Criticisms

Carrier took a moment out of his conference schedule to type a response to Ehrman.  It is as efficient as his others, meaning that he thoroughly shows the hubris of Ehrman’s latest foray (his book and his response to critics).  And let us not beat around the bush here, there is either dishonesty at work or Ehrman just isn’t doing his due diligence.   Carrier starts off by stating what many of us have already picked up on (emphasis added):

Bart Ehrman has finally composed an extensive response to my critical review of his book. But before that came out, he composed two briefer responses, one to my review of his Huffington Post article and another to my subsequent review of his book. He also briefly punted to another blogger, R.J. Hoffman. In this post I’ll address those latter items. Next I’ll reply to the longer piece (I’ve nearly finished my reply to that, but as I’m now at the  Madison Freethought Festival with tons of amazing speakers and excellent liquor, I won’t be able to proof that and post until Sunday evening).

The strangest thing about those latter items is not the alarming-enough fact that they ignore nearly every substantive point in what they are responding to, and focus each on only a single issue, and that one of the least importance (the Hoffman piece likewise doesn’t address anything I actually said). That is strange. But stranger still is that they do not look entirely honest to me. But I’ll just present the evidence and you can decide.

First up is the bizarre deflection of the issues in Ehrman’s response to Carrier’s very real criticisms.  These criticisms focused on the false claims made by Ehrman throughout his recent publicity articles and his book, all of which are completely bizarre and look like the claims made by rank amateurs :

  • The incorrect attribution to Pliny’s letters
  • The false claim that a statue (Priapus Bronze) does not exist.
  • The curios claim that Pilate was not a procurator, but only a governor (He was in fact both.  In the past, I actually made this false claim–but this was before I became a student; we should not expect this from a veteran scholar).
  • The outstandingly false claim that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (yes he said that!)
  • The claim that no Classicist argues that the record of Christians and Jesus in Tacitus is an interpolation (there are at least six that Carrier lists)
  • The claim that no other scholar has proposed a different period for the death of Jesus and the rise of Christianity
  • Ehrman’s apparent ignorance of the Innana death and resurrection story and that of Romulus’ death and resurrection story.
  • The very false claim that we have no evidence of baptism in any mystery religions
  • The claim that no Jews thought the messiah would die or suffer
  • The rather hyperbolic claims that Carrier is somehow unqualified–with his three graduate degrees in relevant fields–to speak on the New Testament and Jesus studies
  • The claim that “not even … the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate” is “mentioned in any Roman sources of his day.”
  • That we have sources dated to within a year or two of Jesus’ death

Those are the patently FALSE claims made by Ehrman.  This doesn’t account for all of his errors either, since there are plenty more (which I cover in my forthcoming paper due out next week, with any luck); it also doesn’t account for Ehrman’s many misleading statements or contradictory statements made throughout the book (where he says one thing at one point and then contradicts himself at a later point).

And to which argument in Carrier’s arsenal of criticisms does Ehrman choose to respond?  That’s right–the Priapus statue (which oddly Ehrman thinks is the strongest one, which is just silly).  He doesn’t address any of the other more relevant and important matters of oversight or misstatements.  You can read my reply to Ehrman’s response here.  Carrier writes the following (snippet):

In his second reply he addressed one single point in my review. And here I believe there is reason to suspect he is lying about the Priapus statue. In my review of his book I called him out for saying (certainly very clearly implying) that Murdock “made up” the statue at the Vatican that she presents a drawing of and says is a symbol of Peter. He clearly did not call the Vatican about it or research the claim at all. Because if he had, he would have said what any responsible scholar would have said, which is that yes, the statue she depicts is real and the drawing she provides is reasonably accurate, but her argument that it symbolizes Peter is not credible. It’s just a pagan statue of the god Priapus.

Now in his reply on this point, in “Acharya S, Richard Carrier, and a Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”),” he claims I misread him, that he never denied the statue existed nor implied that Murdock made it up. Now let’s look at what he actually wrote in the book. You be the judge:

[Acharya says] “‘Peter’ is not only ‘the rock’ but also ‘the cock’, or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.” Here Acharya shows (her own?) hand drawing of a man with a rooster head but with a large erect penis instead of a nose, with this description: “bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasure of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter” (295). There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.

That’s the sum total of what he says about this. It is quite evident to me that when he wrote this, he doubted the drawing came from any source, and believed (and here implies to the reader) that she just made it up. There is no such statue. That is what he is saying. But you can judge that for yourself. Certainly, the one thing this paragraph doesn’t say is that the statue she references does exist, is (or at one time was) at the Vatican, and looks essentially just as her drawing depicts it. It also does not say that she is merely wrong to interpret this statue as being of Peter. To the contrary, all it says is that there is no such statue, she made this up. Which is false. And betrays his failure to even check.

But he now claims he did check. Sort of–he says he saw her citations and assumed there were priapic statues; he did not actually say he checked her sources, or contacted the Vatican.

Indeed. Ehrman is basically saying “I was never wrong. I’m just such a phenomenally lousy writer that things I wrote appear to say what they don’t, and everyone who reads this book will often be misled in result.” Others have noted the problem entailed by his repeatedly careless and irresponsible wording of things, which can completely mislead lay readers of his book. Ophelia Benson (Butterflies & Wheels), for example, found many problems with the way Ehrman’s choice of words misleads, as well as his questionable logic (see: What Ehrman Actually Says, The Unseen, A Small Town Guy).

But I fear it may be worse than that. Because I don’t actually believe him when he says he didn’t mean to say the statue didn’t exist. I suspect that is a post-hoc rationalization that he cooked up in an attempt to save face, after his careless and irresponsible scholarship on this matter was exposed. I suspect this not only because his excuse is implausible on its face (read his original paragraph again, and ask yourself how likely it is that someone who wanted to say “the statue she depicts does exist, but it’s not a statue of Peter” would say instead what he did), and not only because he still doesn’t claim to have researched her sources or contacted the Vatican (in other words, to do what he should have done), but also because, as several people have since pointed out to me, he said in a podcast (before my review and before Murdock herself exposed him on this) that the statue did not in any sense exist.

That’s right. On Homebrewed Christianity, April 3 (2012), “Bart Ehrman on Jesus’ Existence, Apocalypticism & Holy Week,” timestamp 20:30-21:10: at this point in that podcast, Ehrman says Acharya talks about Peter the cock and shows a drawing of a statue with a penis for a nose and claims this is in the Vatican museum, at which Ehrman declares, with laughter, “It’s just made up! There is no such s[tatue]… It’s just completely made up” (emphasis mine). In context it is certainly clear he is saying there is no such statue of any kind, that her drawing is not of any actual object. (Note that I put the word “statue” in partial brackets because he speaks so quickly he didn’t complete the word but started saying what is obviously the word “statue”; he doesn’t pause to correct himself, though, he just quickly segues to the next phrase in animated conversation.)

Now, I must leave it to you to decide what’s going on here. From both his own wording in the book and this podcast, it certainly seems that Ehrman had no idea the statue actually existed, until Murdock and I hammered him on it. Notably, I had emailed him about this weeks before my review, asking what his response to Murdock was, because I was concerned it didn’t look good. I had not yet read his book, so I didn’t know the whole thing would be a travesty of these kinds of errors. Ehrman never answered me (even though he has in the past). Only after my review did he come out with the explanation that he meant to say the statue existed but wasn’t connected to Peter. And on that point I suspect he is lying.

You’ll have to go to his site to read the rest of his response on this.  In fact go read the whole thing.

Larry Hurtado Tackles Academic Injustice and Shameful Cowardice

His excellent discussion starts with this:

Over the last few months I had more reports of academics being let go by Christian-aligned academic institutions, and for what seem to be very minor differences of view on any one of a variety of relatively minor matters. These are degree-granting institutions, supposedly committed to academic excellence (or so says their publicity), yet behaving in a paranoid manner toward their own academic staff, because on some matter arising from their scholarly work they say or write something that bothers some high administrator.  via Academic Injustice and Shameful Cowardice « Larry Hurtado’s Blog.

You’ll want to read the rest; it is a short discussion but no less powerful.

‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ in the Mail Today!

So my coedited volume ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus arrived today, much to my excitement (and confusion).  This is not due out for another two months (June 2012) but somehow a copy made its way to a third party bookseller on Amazon and I picked it up.  So while this is not quite released yet, that I have a copy of my book two months prior to publication is both a curse and a blessing.

Hopefully this implies an earlier release than expected, but it may just be a copy used for publicity purposes or a review copy that was shipped incorrectly.  Either way, after working on this project for years (the concept for this book was sparked during a 2007 conversation over Skype with Thomas Thompson, with first proposals written in 2008), it is humbling and fulfilling to have the copy in my hand.

The preorder deals on this book are pretty outstanding.  Hopefully some of you are taking advantage of them!  The Book Depository is still running a great 25% discounted rate for this, so jump on it now if you can afford it!

Agnosticism and Jesus and What it Means

Joel Watts recently wrote:

One cannot easily deny their association with a group if they spend all of their time defending the ‘quality’, ‘truth’ claims, or ‘validity’ of said group.

Pick a side, Tom.

via Pick a side, Tom | Unsettled Christianity.

But I refuse to do so.  The only honest position in this whole debate is on the side of doubt and agnosticism.  Does he not know that the reason I am agnostic is because I am not convinced by arguments for historicity?  It just so happens I think that some (please note: some–not all, not most) mythicists have sounder arguments about the state of the evidence (because historicists will often take that evidence for granted).  That doesn’t mean I agree with their conclusion about historicity.  Has Joel never cited a work or spoke praise of an argument from someone whom he didn’t agree with on everything?   Or does he only cite someone with whom he completely agrees with on every point?

I think this is a logical fallacy latent in certain parts of scholarship.   Just because I agree with certain arguments about the status of the evidence does not mean I agree with other conclusions.  I don’t believe all the evidence is in and thus I remain unconvinced that Jesus did not exist.  I also remain unconvinced that Jesus did exist.  Frankly I find the whole question useless and currently unanswerable.

However, I do think that Ehrman makes a ton of mistakes and ignores a lot of relevant scholarship and as a result Carrier comes out looking the better because he doesn’t ignore that scholarship.  I do not like ANY position based in presupposition.  And frankly Carrier is more agnostic about historicity than any other mythicist I know.

Finally, I agree with a lot of historicists on subjects unrelated to historicity (like with mythicists).  I like Crossley’s work, I like Crossan’s work (I really, really love Crossan’s work) and I think that Thomas Brodie’s arguments are outstanding.  And all of these individuals are historicists.  I also find a lot of what James McGrath says to be on the money about the socio-cultural world of second temple Judaism.

So Joel’s assertion that I disagree with historicists is just silly.  I don’t agree with them on historicity–and I don’t agree with mythicists on that point either.  But I have yet to see a historicist make a sound and reasoned argument without drawing on very crappy criteria and old data.  I am hoping that Casey’s forthcoming work is better and more sound and from what I hear it will be.  But Ehrman’s book is anything about good work.

Finally, I am surprised by Joel’s hypocritical suggestion that I ‘pick a side’ since he agrees with me!  He finds the whole question unanswerable and irrelevant (though he believes in a historical Jesus, he argues we can never find that individual).  And I say hypocritical since he sides with tons of historicists and never once makes even a passing agreeable comment about an argument from a mythicist!  if his response is ‘well I just don’t find them convincing’, then he knows why I am not in agreement with historicists currently.  That doesn’t make me a mythicist, however.

Richard Carrier, Bayes’s Theorem, and Historical Jesus Criteria

Richard Carrier has a new article posted at the online journal Bible and Interpretation entitled Bayes’ Theorem and the Modern Historian: Proving History Requires Improving Methods.  Here is the blurb:

Several examinations of the methodologies employed in the study of Jesus have consistently found those methods invalid or defective. Which fact has resulted in the proliferation of endless different conclusions as to the nature of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Attention to the logical validity of the methods we employ is essential to repairing this problem. One particular theory of human reasoning can lead the way: widely known as Bayes’ Theorem, historians would benefit tremendously from understanding it and learning how to apply it in their arguments and research.

Bayes.pdf (application/pdf Object).

You should definitely go read it!  I especially like this part:

The latest in this series of studies is a new volume to be published this year, edited by Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne, titled Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T & T Clark, 2012), and featuring such luminaries as Mark Goodacre and Morna Hooker, all coming to the same conclusion: the method of criteria is simply not logically viable. This leaves the field of Jesus studies with no valid method, and puts into question all consensus positions in the field, insofar as they have all been based, to one extent or another, on these logically invalid methods.
The consequence of this has been more than evident: every scholar using these methods “discovers” a completely different historical Jesus. As Dale Allison concludes, “these criteria have not led to any uniformity of result, or any more uniformity than would have been the case had we never heard of them,” hence “the criteria themselves are seriously defective” and “cannot do what is claimed for them.”[8] As Helmut Koester concluded after his own survey, “The vast variety of interpretations of the historical Jesus that the current quest has proposed is bewildering.”[9] James Charlesworth concurs, concluding that “what had been perceived to be a developing consensus in the 1980s has collapsed into a chaos of opinions.”[10] Several others have come to the same conclusion, demonstrating, with extensive citation of examples, the whole confusion of contradictory opinions that has resulted from applying these methods: Thomas Thompson,[11] Thomas Verenna,[12] James Crossley,[13] Mark Strauss,[14] John Poirier,[15] Mark Allen Powell,[16] and John Dominic Crossan,[17] just to name a few.

When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ.[18] This has to end.

Indeed. Do read on.  Exceptional article.

Of Scholars and Things: Bart Ehrman, Pride, and Credibility

καλεῖ δ᾽ ἀκούοντας οὐδὲν ἐν μέσᾳ 
δυσπαλεῖ τε δίνᾳ: 
γελᾷ δὲ δαίμων ἐπ᾽ ἀνδρὶ θερμῷ, 
τὸν οὔποτ᾽ αὐχοῦντ᾽ ἰδὼν ἀμαχάνοις 
δύαις λαπαδνὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπερθέοντ᾽ ἄκραν: 
δι᾽ αἰῶνος δὲ τὸν πρὶν ὄλβον 
ἕρματι προσβαλὼν δίκας 
ὤλετ᾽ ἄκλαυτος, αἶστος. 
(Aeschylus, Eumenides 558-565)

In Ehrman’s recent response to Carrier’s criticisms of his book, Ehrman writes the following (rather shocking) statement:

As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist.  I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about.  But I never attacked him personally.  He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors.

And:

So what is the point?  Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am.  This is a repeated theme throughout his scathing critique.   I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.

After reading the response I mainly wanted to focus on his excuses for why such glaring and egregious problems existed in his book.  But now, after I have had a day to reflect, I wanted to come back to this because, frankly, Ehrman seems to have completely forgotten what he wrote in his book and in various articles about his book over the past few months.

First, I want to stress that Ehrman is a professional scholar–he is a very well established academic with many, many publications.  Not only has he published dozens of books but he has two Loeb texts (on the Apostolic fathers, quite the accomplishment) and many smaller articles in journals and such that should hammer home his credentials.  He is an excellent textual critic and knows a lot about the ins and outs of manuscripts, of scribal practices, of copyist errors.  Indeed his best work is, in my opinion, on these very subjects.  He studied under the late Bruce Metzger and co-authored with him on occasion and that only goes more to his credit.

I say this because there is a great difference between his extremely well-researched book Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperCollins, 2011) and his recent book Did Jesus Exist.  This is primarily due to the subject matter of his work.  Of the former, Ehrman’s expertise, there is no doubt-it is a superb book.  Of the latter, well, clearly there is a disconnect somewhere between what Ehrman knows and what he doesn’t.  And that is really what surprised me so much about his recent articles hyping his book.

He spends a lot of time challenging the credentials of Carrier (who has three graduate degrees in Christian origins, Classics, and ancient science), Price (who has relevant degrees in NT), and Thompson (who has worked in the field of Biblical Studies for over four decades).  In his book, in fact, he writes only that Carrier has a PhD ‘in classics’ (which is simply inaccurate–he holds three graduate degrees: an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D.) and in his article he hints that even with degrees, mythicists like Carrier are unhireable.

In fact Ehrman consistently drives home the point that mythicists–even credentialed ones–are simply weaker historians, like a creation scientist is not really a scientist, or like the way a chiropractor isn’t really a doctor.  That is his whole point; and throughout his book he strives to prove that (a) mythicists are wrong because (b) they aren’t doing history correctly.  So when Ehrman writes, “Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am…. I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.” those of us who have been paying attention cannot help but fall out of our chairs.  Did he really just say that?

His whole point is about proving he is a better historian–because he is a historicist and not a mythicist–than Carrier, Price, Thompson, etc….  That is the point!  His whole book, Did Jesus Exist, is nothing if not one giant attempt to say ‘This is what real historians do; this is why real historians accept a historical Jesus.’

So when Carrier (and I–forthcoming academic article due out on the subject in early May) show that Ehrman has utterly and completely failed at his task, that he has been exposed as unreliable in this particular area (i.e., historical Jesus studies–not his work in textual criticism which is still top notch), what is it that he does?  He seems to forget precisely what it was his goals were in writing the book to begin with.  And that is seriously troubling.

Indeed, Carrier has shown his true colors–his true colors are that of an actual credible scholar who takes pride in their research and tries, with due diligence, to publish work that is solid and sound and reasonable.  And he is not afraid to confront scholarship that is anything but sound and reasonable.  And while that may not win him friends, it is an admirable quality as so many scholars tend to handle these matters with kid gloves when, in fact, sometimes bad arguments just need a swift kick in the pants.  It isn’t my style, but it certainly is Carrier’s.  That is okay with me.

But more than this, Carrier has undermined Ehrman’s point that all mythicists are unreliable.  Certainly MANY mythicists are unreliable (Acharya S, Freke and Gandy, Atwill, etc…) but not all mythicists are in the same boat (just as not all historical Jesus scholars are the same).  And this is a point Ehrman fails to make and as a result he has suffered a blow.  For all his boasting and credential-toting he has not shown himself to be as competent a scholar in the area of historical Jesus studies as Carrier, a mythicist, has.

Still, and I want to be clear, I don’t think this means that Ehrman is an unreliable scholar.  To the contrary, he is quite reliable and should be respected, even though he has not produced a very well argued book on this particular subject.  And if I may use his own words, “[h]e is one smart fellow.  But I’m afraid he falls down on this one.  Even smart people make mistakes.” (p. 167)

Indeed.

Reading Ehrman Charitably

I have been criticized for my latest assessment of Ehrman’s response to Carrier; apparently I am not reading Ehrman with a grain of generosity towards his meaning.  But let’s be clear, here.  What we’re actually saying is, yes, Ehrman was not at all clear (so the initial criticism is not at all wrong), but since he has clarified his position after the fact, we should let this one slide.

But that isn’t what Ehrman is saying.  He is saying that he was clear–very clear–in his book on the statue and that Carrier misunderstood him.  But I am not convinced this is the case.  Reading the book without reading his response would not permit one to know what he meant.  And it seems as though Ehrman is suggesting we should criticize Carrier for not being able to read Ehrman’s mind.

That said, I would be willing to let this go as a misunderstanding if Ehrman admits some error here.  I do believe this is one of Carrie’s weaker points of contention (which is why I believe he listed it towards the top–not because it was the strongest, as Ehrman believes to be the case) and it is possible that Ehrman just got sloppy with his point on Acharya.  And in truth there is no real disagreement here between Ehrman, Carrier, and myself (as it goes).  Acharya S is wrong and she does make a lot of things up–so Ehrman isn’t necessarily wrong in his final conclusion, but he is wrong about the statue (or how he worded his argument about the statue).

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