Blogging About Blogging through Doherty’s Book

I am enjoying James’ discussion of Doherty’s book, and have largely left myself out of the conversation as I have stopped defining myself as a mythicist and more a historical Jesus agnostic.  But I would like to highlight a problem I see continuously in James’ critique, as interesting as it has been.  He writes:

Obviously mythicism is unlike the various forms of creationism in that it is saying “Somebody did it” and not the much more scientifically/historically/academically/intellectually problematic “God/aliens/an Intelligent Designer did it.” But as always, that has not been the point of my comparison. Doherty’s mythicist “case” is like that of creationists in more important ways. It offers a “solution” to unsolved historical/scientific mysteries that is not completely satisfying, and at best “possible” without clearly being preferable.

via Exploring Our Matrix: Blogging through Doherty’s book – Interlude I.

This is an unfair analysis.  The truth is that historicists don’t offer a solution either.  In fact often historical Jesus scholars will speculate on parts of the narrative in ways which are hypocritical or otherwise promote double-standards in exegesis, in most cases asking the reader to ‘beg the question‘ along with them.

This is not an attack on historical Jesus scholarship, but rather an elevation of a continuing problem in Jesus research.  That is to say, everyone points at earlier research or new research and calls it out as ‘unsatisfying’ or ‘insufficient’ but while consistently ignoring the thorn in their own eyes.  I haven’t read James’ books on the subject, but I suspect from what arguments I have read from James that James does in fact make the same sorts of insufficient judgments that Doherty makes, he just makes them in different ways, about different parts of the text (and that shouldn’t be read as ‘better ways’ or ‘correct parts of the text’).  Methodology is the problem, because that influences the exegesis.  And that stands true for all historical Jesus research, from mythicists and historical Jesus scholars, and everyone in between.

5 Responses

  1. Thanks for mentioning this blog series, Tom!

    I think it is a fair point to suggest that no historical reconstruction is so watertight as to leave no puzzles, unanswered questions, or room for criticism. The question has to be which attempted solution makes the best sense of as much of the relevant evidence as possible. And I suspect I would find Doherty’s brand of mythicism far less irritating than I do, were it not for the fact that he criticizes mainstream scholarship while apparently unable to see that his own proposed “solution” creates even more problems than it solves.

    Scholarship is all about criticizing the work of other scholars. But our criticisms only move scholarship forward if we offer a better solution than the ones we criticize. :-)

  2. James,

    I appreciate the comment. I agree with your analysis here, but I would argue that scholarship generally creates more questions than it solves. After all, we would be out of the job (or, in my case, would never be able to get a job) if we stopped generating more questions than answers! For me, that proves that its working. The point of new and exciting scholarship is to generate new questions or, in the case of mythicist, ask old questions in new ways. It challenges the tradition and we need that. I don’t think Doherty has all the answers, and I don’t think he believes he does either. And from my exchanges with him, brief as they are, he is on the right track, though I would recommend Thompson first and foremost as a source of a study for questioning the historical Jesus. But this is precisely why I think shrugging mythicism off is terrible for scholarship. There are serious problems in historical reconstructions of the figure of Jesus and for too long they have gone relatively unchallenged due to their position as ‘traditional’. But these problems have been noted (though never engaged) by Schweitzer, all the up to Crossan, and beyond. Mythicism–at least the sort that I would hold to be at least a little credible–holds out its hand and says, ‘Wait a second, what? You see a problem but ignore it? I can’t do that.” You might not find their conclusions convincing, but as you say, it presents a challenge that needs to be addressed and generates discussion. At least it is doing something.

    And so it was, that man wrote his first words about God. And the next day, scholars began to exegete…

  3. I find their to be some big gaps in the models proposed for how Christianity began as well. Of course all historical topics have questions as no one knows every thing and some historian wants to know it ( I get pissed when people say, “why do you care what x did?” man, historians have written books on the whore houses of D.C. during the civil war, people are curious about weird stuff, let a playa play hater) We don’t know how judaism started and we don’t know how Christianity started, Buddhism just hasn’t gotten enough of the right attention for us to not know how it started. That we don’t know is why I’m interested, and I’m glad we don’t know, I’ll be a little sad if one of you beats me to the perfect theory.

    On Doherty, I personally think his looking into Platonic theological ideas is good place to look, but I think he really is creating an awkward theory just to get a radical result. As James says (McGrath, not Brown) it solves one part by creating even more problems at others. I don’t think it solves the problem with Paul either.

    You had mentioned Thompson, does he have a Christ myth theory? Vridar lumped him in with Price, Doherty and Salm, though I gather Thompson is taken a bit more seriously in his field than they are in theirs(well, I means New Testament scholars, not “Brights!” devotional literature publishers). I think if Thompson has a book on this or a paper we should be discussing that. You need to drop your book on the market pronto.

  4. The question has to be which attempted solution makes the best sense of as much of the relevant evidence as possible.

    I don’t think that has to be the question at all. The question could be “Does any attempted solution make enough sense of the evidence that it justifies being embraced to the exclusion of all the others?” If not, agnosticism is warranted.

  5. […] Blogging About Blogging Through Doherty’s Book […]

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