On the Doherty-McGrath-Godfrey Exchange

Perhaps the title of this post should read ‘Why we need to watch our terminology’, but I thought that might have been too vague.  Still, I must wonder why I am seeing so much aggression on both sides.  In my attempt to remain impartial, it seems I have alienated myself from Godfrey.  I’d like to address his criticisms and use this as a tool to highlight the problem with the current position Godfrey takes.  He writes:

Tom Verenna has written (naively, in my view, but that is forgivable) that he equates the scientific method itself with the academic publishing processes. But less forgivable is that, without even having read Rene Salm’s book, he has web-posted the very same sorts of ignorant falsehoods and insults as McGrath has leveled at Doherty and others, also without reading their works or being able to outline their arguments in anything but their own straw man versions.

I’m not sure I’ve equated the scientific method with academic publishing, but I do agree with McGrath, as well as Carrier, that publishing academically is one way in which competency can be judged and tested.  With peer review (especially blind peer review), what you write is subjected to an process whereby other legitimate academics who are certified in the field examine your arguments, your use of the language, the translations you provide, and determine if they meet a level of competency  necessary to publish.  It is not infallible and has at times failed.  I can name a few peer reviewed papers that are quite atrocious, which have the most bizarre arguments, that still make it through.  But doesn’t that make an interesting point?

Doherty and Godfrey have argued that peer review, in an academic setting, is a trend for those who belong to the ‘elite club’ of the white tower of ivory, where those with dissenting perspectives against the status quo of the academy cannot gain access.  Yet many dissenting perspectives not only get through, and published, they get reviewed and they get discussed.  Again, the process isn’t perfect, and at times studies get missed that shouldn’t (like Michael Vines’ great work on the genre of the Gospel of Mark), but overall with continued publishing they will get noticed by the community eventually.  And if the study is good enough, compelling enough, and argued thoroughly enough, the study will prove to change, at least a portion, of the academic community.  And sometimes that is most for which you can ask.  After all, just as any group of people, the community is made up of all sorts from a variety of social backgrounds, with differing opinions, and different politics, and different religious convictions.  You cannot hope to convince everyone, and you’re lucky if you convince anyone.

However, when one resigns themselves to publish without going through this process, they deserve what they get from the community.  Its a part of paying your dues.  You don’t sell a lot of books, but that isn’t the point.  If Doherty had sought an academic publisher for his book, or even if he had sought publication for a chapter or two, in a peer reviewed journal, his ideas and views would be read directly by the academic community.  He would be subjected to their reviews, both good and bad. McGrath would be forced to interact with these reviews, as they come from the community, and he wouldn’t be able to (or at least, he couldn’t be accused of) gloss over points or misrepresent, or ignore certain aspects of Doherty’s thesis.  There would always be another academic review, whether by RBL or some other reviewing house, which countered him, or which held a more impartial perspective.  But since Doherty has chosen instead to throw stones from his glass house, well outside of the academy, why should McGrath, or anyone else, take him seriously?  It is only by luck that I have the friends I do, where sometimes I am taken seriously (and I have an academic publication forthcoming!).

As for Salm, that is an interesting critique.  Salm sent me six tracts (no bigger than small pamphlets) ‘for scholars’ which I felt not only fell short of what was needed to prove his case, but that he neglected to address the criticisms against his position.  I feel his position, that Nazareth didn’t exist when it is said to have existed, is patently ridiculous as he currently argues for it and we have more than sufficient reason to accept its place in the first century landscape.  If Salm wants to prove his case, he should seek to publish his finds in ASOR, present a paper at a conference for ASOR or some other society (and there are more than a few that would find Salm’s position interesting).  I never said there was no way he could be right, but as he has presented it in the past, and his reluctance to present it in an academic setting now, suggests to me that even he realizes he has no case.  If he did he would join ASOR or some other society and present it.  The change he seeks will not come overnight, but it will be heard, examined, and the academic discussion on the subject can happen.  And when it happens, it will either validate or invalidate his position.

The past and youth are forgivable, but quite some time ago I asked Tom if he still holds these views or wishes to retract them and I am still waiting to receive a reply to that particular query.

Well, Neil, there is your answer.

Tom on his blog has more recently given the same excuse as Stephanie Fisher has given for the likes of McGrath and West: that is, in effect, that these are really very nice chaps when you get to know them personally. I am sure they are. So this excuses their public discarding of basic human respect and scholarly standards when targeging those who hold views they detest? And those who just happen to judge them at their public word are at fault for failing to realize that behind those ad hominems and misrepresentions is really a very nice chap?

No, Neil, you are quite wrong.  I am not ‘giving an excuse’ for their behavior.  Nor am I sanctioning McGraths’ misrepresentations.  Had you bothered to read my blog, you would note I have often gone out of my way to check McGraths’ more hyperbolic comments and have, on more than one occasion, warned him about the fallacious distinctions he sometimes makes.  However, you have not helped yourself, Neil.  You’ve become an isolationist and as a result have caused yourself to have spiteful comments directed towards you.  I will give you the same advice I gave John Loftus.  If you want to parlay with the academic community, you need to grow some thicker skin–especially if you’re arguing against consensus.  I know for a fact that the biggest criticism against my forthcoming book is that I am not certified; and it is a valid criticism.  My hope is that many will look past it, and some might find the arguments more worthwhile than my status

My comments towards McGraths’ personality are quite irrelevant and I’m not sure how you came to associate them with my opinion towards James’ position on historicity of the figure of Jesus and his remarks towards those with opposing views.

And Tom’s reply above pointing to certain mythicists (e.g. Zeitgeists) demonstrates my point about his using the same tactic of politician-speak in his response to me earlier. When I spoke about McGrath’s unprofessional attacks on Doherty’s book and even on Doherty personally, Tom avoids (and thereby implicitly excuses) the issue by replying that “mythicists” have given “historicists” as hard a time as they have received themselves.

They are, and they have.  I fail to see how one as smart as you might fail to see the problems associated with your own arguments and the rhetoric you use in your own posts.  You seem to ignore the fact that your argument is really not academic.  It isn’t even credible.  This is a very serious charge in the academic community.  Doherty is in the same position.  Sans his degree, which is noteworthy, he is not published and he is arguing a point which is strongly unsupported in the community.  There are ways of doing things, as there are in any field, and you have both, as well as others, ignored the rules of engagement.  If you have a case, publish it.  It will either stand for itself or crumble under the weight of scholarly examination.  But you can’t expect McGrath, nor anyone, to presume to take you seriously when you don’t event take your own arguments seriously enough to seek to present them in an academic manner.

And this is where McGraths’ point is solidified.  When he compares you to creationists, he isn’t speaking about the idea that Jesus might not have existed historically.  He would not levy such a criticism against those who are agnostic about the historicity of such a figure.  No, he is lobbying against your unrealistic approach.  You complain that scholars don’t take you seriously, but you don’t do anything ‘scholarly’.  You don’t publish, you don’t use caution in your conclusions (you and Doherty state that affirmative that Jesus never existed rather than the more agnostic approach), you don’t appreciate the scholarly process, and then you wonder why scholars ignore you.  McGrath is absolutely correct: this is just the same approach that creationists take.

This is what I meant by remaining silent in the face of clear, demonstrable and unequivocal abuse of one’s status as a public intellectual.

Being a public intellectual doesn’t mean you’re right, or that you automatically deserve respect.  Respect is something to be earned, not given freely.

Tom’s silence when faced directly with this question implies complicity. His apparent failure to renounce his own irresponsible and ignorant attacks on Salm’s book without even having read it is as reprehensible as anything we see from McGrath himself. (Sorry, no it is not as bad as McGrath’s standards. McGrath is a fully qualified academic and professor.)

I’ll ignore the subtle ad hom, but I will not excuse your abuse of my integrity.  I have indeed read Salm’s tracts on Nazareth, which he sent me.  I will gladly upload pictures of the tracts I have.  I remain unconvinced because he refuses to engage scholarship directly.  I can’t accept his conclusions at face value without knowing the other arguments, but I can’t know them since most archaeologists are unaware or simply don’t care because he hasn’t published them where they can read them and examine them as a community.   My criticism of Salm remains the same now as it did when I first pointed a finger at him, which is surprisingly the only argument I still feel compelled to agree with myself on from that period in time.  “I consider … Salm’s book on par with that of Joe Atwill’s book, Caesar’s Messiah. It’s the same sort of poor scholarship and ridiculous misuse of the evidence. Both present extreme theories with little regard for the authorities. Both make claims that are really unbacked by scholarship. Both, to my knowledge, never went through peer review. Both have been confronted by scholars and both refuse to revise their arguments based on those criticisms that cannot be countered.  As I said – they could be right, and … Nazareth [may] never have existed [after all]…. Even worse is that scholarship is against them in almost every regard,… the evidence is stacked in opposition. And it’s not because their position is an impossibility, but simply because there is no good reason to accept their position based on probability. Bluntly, the only conclusion one can draw from the evidence is that Nazareth existed.”  I don’t think I was unclear (even though I believe I write better now than I did then).  I don’t think I’m being unclear now.

I am quite sure Tom, James et al are all very nice people to have a drink and discuss the weather with, and that they are the most congenial of folks at conferences and, by and large, hold themselves to the right professional dealings with one another. But when faced with outside critiques — like people who have one respectable persona in their public lives but have “issues” when back at home — outright intellectual dishonesty and malicious slander are, well, not unknown.

Intellectually dishonest?  Slander?  I haven’t slandered anyone, nor have I been intellectually dishonest.  If you feel that way, Neil, I have to believe you are deluding yourself.

I understand that if one wants to get ahead in a guild one must play the game. Hoffmann has acknowledged that the reason the question of the nonhistoricity of Jesus is not more on the agenda among scholars has more to do with concern for security of academic appointments than “common sense”.

This is quite incorrect.  The reason why the historicity of Jesus is not considered in modern scholarship has nothing to do with ‘playing it safe’ but, rather, has everything to do with there not being a study published which raises the question.  And yes, there is a game to be played.  It’s called the game of method and exposure.  You follow the methods and show them through exposure to the community.  If you are that insecure about your conclusions, then I can’t help you and nobody else can either.

So I understand that to be accepted into the club one must learn to think a certain way.

How naive and ignorant.  Nobody is forced to think a certain way; if that were the case, we would still be uttering church law and dogma at all academic conferences and at the beginning of every paper.  And rather than discussing the intricacies of intertextuality in the Gospels we would be singing hymns and praises towards the miracles of Jesus.  This is a completely fallacious and slanderous statement about the status of current scholarship, and speaks volumes about ones own understanding and misgivings about the academic process.  The whole PhD process is bent around producing a new and unique work in the field.  Quoting the so-called ‘status quo’ is not going to get one anywhere.  It won’t even get them by a PhD board.  They’ll probably be cited for plagiarism.  The ‘status quo’ argument is nothing more than a myth, idealized by those who refuse to do what is necessary to earn respect.

And the only thing one must do to ‘join the club’ is to be realistic.  You’re being ‘anything but realistic’ in your analysis.

But that club is only showing its tribal side when some of its members can crucify certain targeted incorrect outsiders while the rest of its members find excuses to remain silent.

Again, if you believe I’ve been silent, Neil, you’re delusional or just not paying attention.

33 Responses

  1. […] More from Icerocket blogs: On the Doherty-McGrath-Godfrey Exchange […]

  2. Tom,

    I think that I am more cynical than you about the the ability of academia to grant a fair hearing to challenges to the consensus, however, the peer review process is still the best tool available by far for examining and testing ideas. Theories that are disseminated primarily in the blogosphere cannot be expected to get the same respect.

  3. Absolutely Vinny. Absolutely. Right on the mark. It may be that I am friendly with more European scholars than American scholars, and there seems to be a difference there in terms of acceptance. Still, there are many examples of outrageous arguments made by those who use peer review, so it cannot be as closed as some people presume it to be.

  4. Out of interest, what scholarly works have been published considering agnosticism on the historicity of Jesus?

    I assume there are lots, as agnosticism is a perfectly respectable position to take.

  5. That’s an interesting way to phrase it Steven. The point is that taking an agnostic position on Jesus doesn’t require a long publication. People can certainly doubt the historicity without needing to have the need to publish lengthy tracts. However, those who have acknowledged agnosticism, aside from myself, are Richard Carrier in some of his more recent publications using Bayesian theory, and Hector Avalos I believe is working on a book in favor of agnosticism, leaning towards ahistoricity. I also know Price has taken an agnostic approach rather than a hardline mythicist approach lately in his publications. I am not certain what some of my other colleagues’ perspectives are on the figure of Jesus, but I would imagine there are a lot of NT scholars who are agnostic on the question, but simply don’t feel the need to express it to anyone other than their students.

  6. I can imagine that there might be an unconscious bias against agnosticism in historical Jesus studies. In a “publish or perish” environment, how many times can you base a paper on “I don’t know”?

  7. So Avalos, Price and Richard Carrier ,and you yourself, have written peer-reviewed articles defending an agnostic attitude to the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth?

    It is interesting that many NT scholars do not feel certain that Jesus of Nazareth existed, but don’t feel the need to express that opinion to anyone other than their students.

  8. I don’t think it is as interesting as can be inferred from your tone. I know several of my professors were agnostic about the question. But it is just not something you write on. Why would you? As Vinny remarks aptly, there just is no reason to write a paper entitled ‘I don’t know’. You write on things you do know, or think you know, whether or not it be on intertextuality or genre or anthropology or some other field. There is no ‘Agnostic Jesus’ field. Maybe one day that will change. I imagine those scholars who write critically about the Gospels, particularly literary critics, are most likely agnostic. If they weren’t, they would just classify themselves as historical Jesus scholars.

  9. But how can professional NT scholars be agnostic about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, when the case for his existence is so clear cut that denying his existence is similar to Holocaust denial – at least in certain circles?

  10. Steven I’m not sure what your angle is here.

  11. Tom,

    That is an essential element of Steven’s charm. He is as frustrating as he is fascinating.

  12. Indeed.

  13. Tom: “But it is just not something you write on. Why would you? As Vinny remarks aptly, there just is no reason to write a paper entitled ‘I don’t know’.”

    I’m a little taken aback at your oversimplification of agnosticism, Tom. Surely don’t mean to imply that you have a personal, private opinion that you don’t know whether an historical Jesus existed.

    In the vernacular people misuse the term agnostic as if it means they haven’t made up their minds — the jury is still out, so to speak. But that can’t be right either, since you are well acquainted with the several historical reconstructions that have made the rounds over the past century. I rather doubt you are an agnostic simply because you can’t decide which one you like best. No, I assume it means you’ve reached the conclusion based on evidence and reason that you cannot know.

    I think historical Jesus agnosticism as expressed by a professional such as yourself gets to the heart of some persistent underlying problems with sources and methods. To put it bluntly the sources are poor, and the methods are often worse. The sources are useful in telling us what early Christians believed, but they’re highly problematic as historical sources for Jesus. They are late, secondary, anonymous, and contradictory. Yet other professionals in your field still misidentify them as “primary sources” or even as “witnesses.”

    Starting with these incorrect assumptions about the sources, conventional NT scholars (the “historicists”) add to their sins with ill-conceived and poorly applied criteriology (criteriosophy? criteriolatry?).

    Tom, you could say a lot about why you’ve adopted agnosticism beyond just repeating, “I dunno.” What I as a student would like to know is how you reached the conclusion that the available evidence does not support any of the popular reconstructions. What’s the state of the evidence? Why do others disagree? Why are there so many *different* historical portraits of Jesus? What missing evidence would you need in order to go from plausible to probable?

    It isn’t the fact that you don’t know, but why you don’t know or why you think we cannot know (as well as what it means to know) that interests me and that could certainly fill your average-sized paper.

  14. Tim, you’re quite right about me personally, but that doesn’t mean that every scholar who has his doubts has expressed them in an academic setting. Many don’t simply because they do feel the jury is still out and frankly its outside of their field. I, for one, don’t know anything about the figure of Muhammad. Some out there suggest he never existed. I don’t know, he might have. I am ignorant about such details. And to be honest, I have too much else to research and investigate to come to any real conclusion. And I imagine that same perspective could be said about those whose field is not historical Jesus studies or fields in NT who require such an understanding of the data.

  15. Angle? I never have an angle.

    I’m just curious why some people that you know who study the NT for a living can be agnostic about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, when you just have to read the literature to be told that it is a slam dunk case.

    By people you know, I mean these other people other than Carrier , PPrice or Avalos.

    Surely these people have read Galatians 1:19. It is their job to read the Bible.

  16. Tom I am curious that you place Dr. Price in the agnostic camp. Dr. McGrath clearly sees him as a mythicist and I believe he has so self-identified. What do you see as the salient differences between a mythicist, broadly construed and an agnostic, broadly construed?

  17. McGrath isn’t wrong; Price has aligned himself in the past with mythicism and it is no help at all to him that he associates with the likes of Dorothy Murdock. However he has recently said, over and over again, that he is an agnostic. So he is not a mythicist anymore, but he does associate with certain strands of mythicism that are a little ridiculous.

    In my humble opinion, mythicism would be defined as someone who takes a hardline stance against historicity. For example, someone who says “Jesus never existed”. An agnostic on the question holds that the evidence is inconclusive and that the jury is still out, and this is usually based upon a large amount of study. I would also say that anyone who follows and accepts the falsehoods of movements like Zeitgeist and those who follow Murdock are mythicists. And there are a lot of people who fit broadly into these categories.

  18. At the beginning of his essay “Jesus at the Vanishing Point” in The Historical Jesus: Five Views Price writes “I will argue that it is quite likely that there never was any historical Jesus.” He then goes on to argues that the hypothesis of a wholly mythical Jesus is sufficient to explain the data. However, he concludes his essay by saying by saying “Might there still have been a historical Jesus who, however, has been irretrievably lost behind the stained glass curtain of his own glorification? Indeed. But I should think the burden of proof lies with the one who would affirm such a Jesus.”

    I understand Price’s position to be that the hypothesis of a historical Jesus is unnecessary, but not that it has been conclusively refuted. I think that can still be fairly be considered an agnostic position but his sympathies seem to lie with mythicism.

  19. So Tom, are there people who categorically state that Romulus, the Roman Kings, Odysseus or Aeneas never existed? This seems to be a distinction without a difference. If all we can say at this point is that the stories we have about these characters are pieces of mythopoiesis or literary fiction, then the characters who are accessible today are myths, correct?

  20. Evan, the differences aren’t always so clear, and neither are the similarities. In Josephus’ story of Jaddus the High Priest and Alexander’s march on Jerusalem, the story is a complete fiction, fabricated around something so historically implausible that most scholars dismiss it outright. But Jaddus the High Priest and Alexander the Great were real people. The story is riddled with motifs and archetypal scenes found in the Hebrew Bible and other ancient Jewish/Christian sources. St. Genevieve is said to have overturned ships and done all sorts of fanciful things. But she was a real person. On the other end of the spectrum, Romulus, Remus, Odysseus, Aeneas, Moses, Lycurgus, all fictional figures. And it sometimes has to do with genre (like in the fictional Greek letters where the characters were eponymous) and sometimes with intent (the biography of Apollonius of Tyana via Philostratus or Iamblicus on Pythagoras). It is good to see these motifs and mimetic vagaries wrapped up in the narrative. But we must not ignore the play of the mythic mind. There is a hand there that might or might not have been dealt and cultural memory, kerygma, folk tradition, mythology, or whatever you may like to say, doesn’t provide an answer. It certainly can’t say whether or not a figure existed historically as fiction can just as easily be written about historical figures as it can fabricated ones. This is why I believe it is acceptable to remain agnostic, until more studies are published which address these challenges, provide better methods, more rigor in their research, better appreciation of sociological and anthropological factors and influences.

  21. I am of two minds on the subject of agnosticism. On the one hand, it’s undeniably true that we will never be absolutely certain of anything. We go where the odds take us. We evaluate probabilities and hedge our bets.

    On the other hand, I find it curious that agnosticism is invoked mainly in cases in which entrenched interests tend to stifle debate.

    “Do you believe in pink unicorns?” No.

    “Do you believe in God?” Well, who can say? The universe is a pretty big place; how can I presume to know everything; blah-blah, hem-haw…

    TOM: “This is why I believe it is acceptable to remain agnostic…”

    Is that really the issue? Most atheists I know are agnostic atheists. They believe absolute knowledge is impossible, but they operate under the assumption that God does not exist. Many theists are also agnostics and count the “leap of faith” as an important step in their relationship with God.

    To say that all mythicists are 100 percent certain of their beliefs and entertain no doubt that there could have been an historical Jesus is surely hyperbole.

    TOM: “An agnostic on the question holds that the evidence is inconclusive and that the jury is still out, and this is usually based upon a large amount of study.”

    After a moderate amount of independent study, I would say the jury is not out; rather, the jury was never impaneled in the first place. There was never enough evidence to bring the case to trial.

    In the end declaring oneself as an agnostic is about as enlightening as declaring oneself a mammal. That much we knew. Tell us something useful — for instance, do you believe there is enough evidence to declare that Jesus of Nazareth existed and that anyone who questions this fact is a kook? Do you believe the mythical Jesus of faith requires an historical antecedent?

    Your answers to these questions are interesting because public NT scholars like Ehrman and Crossan always tell us that “no serious scholar” doubts the existence of an historical Jesus. And I just don’t think that’s true.

  22. Tim,

    I’ve written on agnosticism before and I am well acquainted with the fact that belief and knowledge are two different questions. It is from my recognition of the differences that I can point out the disconnect between a belief in a God or a belief in a historical figure vs. whether or not that figure was or wasn’t historical. First, I do not ‘believe’ in Jesus, that is, that I have faith, but it is not such a sensible thing to say I ‘believe’ in or ‘disbelieve’ in historicity. That would be like saying I ‘believe’ in evolution. No, I don’t believe in it, it doesn’t require faith. It doesn’t require belief. It either happened or it didn’t. Ergo I accept it. With history, the same language is applied. I do not believe that Caesar existed, I accept it based upon the evidence. I am skeptical about the historicity of the figure of Jesus, but I don’t have enough evidence to say he did or didn’t exist, ergo I remain agnostic. I just don’t know with any certainty.

    The default position, however, is not ‘he didn’t exist until proven he did’ as you seem to imply. In the field of history there are lots of instances where evidence is lacking or nonexistent except for fantastic literature, but we have enough authority to state that the individual probably lived. I’ve already listed examples elsewhere. You are correct though that serious scholars do doubt the historicity of Jesus. Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier are actually well acquainted now, and Bart was only just recently made aware of Thomas Thompson’s book, as well as mine (forthcoming). I suspect that he will adjust his language in the future.

  23. In a sense, I don’t believe in leprechauns for the same reason I don’t believe in God: I don’t see any evidence of their existence. However, I don’t consider myself agnostic about leprechauns but I do consider myself agnostic about God. The difference I think is that the leprechaun hypothesis has no explanatory power whatsoever. There is nothing in my knowledge or experience that would make any more sense if there were leprechauns than if there were not. I am not so sure of this when it comes to God. The God hypothesis might help to explain why there is something rather than nothing, why there is order rather than chaos, and why there is consciousness.

    I think my reasoning is similar when it comes to the historical Jesus hypothesis. I don’t think that a historical Romulus or a historical Odysseus have any explanatory power or make any better sense of the data than purely mythical figures, but I am much less certain when it comes to the historical Jesus. I still think there are some points where the explanations provided by the mythical Jesus hypothesis may be less than satisfying. As a result, I don’t think that it is inconsistent to be agnostic about the historical Jesus without being agnostic about the historical Romulus.

  24. Vinny, it’s not the same since we’re not talking about the same sorts of topics. You’re comparing apples to carburetors. Anyone who thinks all historical sources should be treated equally shows their ignorance about historical sources and data. When you compare Romulus to Jesus you ignore the different materials we have for both, the value each has, and what its worth is. It’s not realistic. I do not agree, nor can I. History cannot be done as you are suggesting it be done here. There are just too many variables.

  25. Tom,

    I didn’t really think that I was making any suggestions about how history should be done. I was just comparing the reasons why I might be agnostic about one supernatural being while affirmatively denying the existence of another to the reasons why I might be agnostic about one figure from the ancient world while affirmatively denying the existence of another. It is because the data is so much different that I think the historical Jesus hypothesis has explanatory power whereas I don’t find any in the historical Romulus hypothesis.

  26. Vinny,

    My apologies, I must have misread what you wrote. I was a little rushed and had to take care of something and responded only after skimming your comment rather than giving it the attention it deserved. I suppose I’m just so used to having explain that point, I saw a few keywords in your post and made assumptions. Rereading it now, I see we agree. Again, sorry for the misunderstanding.

  27. Tom,

    No problem. I didn’t feel like I was articulating my thought very well when I posted that comment, but I didn’t feel like fighting with it anymore. I’m not surprised that the point didn’t come across clearly.

  28. ‘When you compare Romulus to Jesus you ignore the different materials we have for both, the value each has, and what its worth is.’

    We have a lot of of fictional stories about Jesus of Nazareth. Not only can fictional stories be written about historical characters, but historians can chide amateurs for not recognising that fiction is in a different category of evidence for historicity than myth is.

    It pays not to ignore the different value that fiction and myth have, and what the worth of each is.

  29. Tom wrote: “You’ve become an isolationist and as a result have caused yourself to have spiteful comments directed towards you.”

    So I caused McGrath and Steph and Crossley and Watts etc to say all those things about me and have only myself to blame?

    Tom wrote: “You complain that scholars don’t take you seriously, but you don’t do anything ‘scholarly’. ”

    What “complaint” of mine exactly are you referring to? I thought the blog was an informal place for an informal expression of ideas. But I am at fault for not doing something “scholarly”?

    Tom wrote: “You don’t publish, you don’t use caution in your conclusions (you and Doherty state that affirmative that Jesus never existed rather than the more agnostic approach), you don’t appreciate the scholarly process, and then you wonder why scholars ignore you.”

    Er, no, I don’t publish in biblical studies journals. (I was, incidentally, invited by an editor of such a journal to publish my views on the Markan ending some years ago, but I did not take up the offer because I know my views are always in flux and whatever I wrote at one time would not be what I thought later. I’m not in the scholarly career business, sorry.) Sorry, I’m just a lay blogger with a hobby.

    And I am trying to recall where I drew a conclusion from any argument I presented that “Jesus never existed”. I have often said that this or that evidence is best explained as being sourced from something other than a historical Jesus, and that a historical Jesus is only a more complicating explanation. I have often said that such and such an argument does not disprove historicity, but that it does show the alternative is a simpler explanation.

    And as for Doherty, yes, I believe he is a lot more direct and affirmative. So is it a problem that he believes his arguments are strong enought to draw that conclusion? What is your objection? His conclusion or his specific arguments? You have said you have not read his book so I suspect you are simply objecting to his conclusions without familiarity with his arguments.

    Tom wrote: “McGrath is absolutely correct: this is just the same approach that creationists take.”

    It is not the dogmatism of creationists that James or others fault. It is the failure of creationists to engage fairly and honestly with the evidence and scientific writings that is at fault. McGrath is faulting Doherty and “mythicists” for (in his view) also failing to address fairly the evidence and the scholarship.

    If dogmatism is not scholarly then I have yet to see McGrath and a number of scholars accept this principle in relation to their conviction that mythicism is wrong and historicism is right. Dogmatism is not the issue. And you are simply wrong when you say my fault is dogmatism in relation to mythicism.

    As for alienation from you, Tom, it not because of your attempts to be “even-handed”. There is nothing even handed about what you said about Salm’s book that you have admitted you have not read. And your post titled here the Doherty-McGrath-Godfrey exchange is about me, not the three of us. Presumably this is because I made the mistake of criticizing you personally for “lack of even-handedness” (fair comment based on knowledge of the book itself) in regard to Salm’s book.

    As for the “aggression” on my part, yes, I do say that McGrath has been unprofessional in his slanderous and false statements about Doherty and his book, and in using his professional status to set an example of ridicule and insult against different views. A mild rebuke for unscholarly language does not quite cut it.

    What you have omitted in your post, Tom, is what has really rankled McGrath and Crossley and others. It is my discussion of methods of historical inquiry, the place of assumptions, and drawing direct comparisons with how we know what happened in ancient times in other (nonbiblical) areas, and reliance on a range of other scholarly remarks to support my particular conclusions, that has attracted the most vitriol and false accusations of all.

    Obviously I have no illusions that “biblical scholarship” is going to jump up and listen to a lay blogger in internet land What I do find curious, however, is that anyone in the scholarly domain would even go the trouble of such vituperative responses.

    If the views were so off-target then why would anyone bother to attack them the way they do? Why not simply give the calm and reasoned rebuttal that we expect from evolutionists rebutting creationist arguments?

    For that matter, why not the same calm, reasoned rebuttals in response to Doherty et al?

    The historical question has been the failure on the part of biblical scholars to respond to “creationist-like” arguments the way evolutionists regularly rebut their “kooks”. Biblical scholars have rarely (I can think of one or two exceptions) shown the same professionalism in their approach to mythicism.

    Tom wrote: “I will give you the same advice I gave John Loftus. If you want to parlay with the academic community, you need to grow some thicker skin–especially if you’re arguing against consensus.”

    Thank you for your unsolicited advice. I will hopefully understand if I continue to speak up where if I see an academic abusing his professional status by ad hominem attacks and misrpresentation against others.

    As for insults against me personally (my fault because I’m “an isolationist”?), well, yes, sometimes I just might bite back after a while. But I do invite you to observe the number of times I have attempted to make peace and establish reasonable discussion with McGrath ever since our first exchanges, and note the responses I have been met with each time.

    McGrath has made it quite clear that he has no intention of giving mythicist arguments any appearance of respectability. It really does appear that that extends to treating those who defend their argument with disrespect. I would love to be proved wrong.

  30. I’m sure it was just an oversight, Tom, and I am sure you will agree that it is simply good form to link to the post or comments that we are addressing — If I have missed where you have linked to my remarks that you are responding to, then I apologize. But for the record, the post and comments are here: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/dohertys-response-to-mcgraths-review-of-chapter-9/

  31. Tom, when you say that comparing Jesus to Romulus is comparing apples to carburetors, are you saying that the evidence for Jesus is better or worse than that for Romulus?

  32. After those like Israel Finkelstein et al., showed biblical archaeology to be circular reasoning with a shovel (basing strata dates on 1 Kings 9:15); historians from even before Edward Gibbon’s day showing us that church authorities were not above lying, forgery, etc. in defense of their elite status (i.e. Eusebius et al.); and biblical scholars continually confusing literary constructs for evidence of the subject matter, I actually hold that the lack of scholarly acceptance from biblical quarters is, in fact, a positive attribute of Doherty’s work. And, as such, should not be lowered to a level consistently subjected to that amount of incredulity. None the less, Richard Carrier gave Doherty’s position a positive appraisal at:


    When an epistemological field needs a prefix, say, for instance, biblical whatever, it is admitting that it is approaching a topic from a certain perspective. Quantum physics, for instance, approaches physics from a quantum perspective; the evidence supports this approach because it has become quite apparent that size does matter. Biblical anything approaches whatever field from the perspective that the Bible is informative as other than literature of a specific time and by a specific people. The difference being we are consistently shown the evidence does not support anything of the sort. So, I will stand with the evidence and those like Earl Doherty regardless of scholarly acceptance.

  33. […] the distinction between that list and the list of biblioblogs.MythologyOn the topic of mythicism, Tom Verenna started the month off by addressing mythicist attitudes to peer review. He also responded to Steve Caruso’s suggestion about peer-reviewed biblioblogging. Otagosh […]

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