Look! Scientists trying to be Historians Again! Silly Scientists…

Richard Carrier blogged this today:

Scientists prove Beowulf and the Iliad are true stories! Not. Sometimes scientists can be so clueless, you just want to pat them on the head and go “Aw, that’s so sad.”

Bad Science Proves Demigods Exist! | Richard Carrier Blogs.

Overall, I agree with him on the initial point that Scientists are not historians or theologians and don’t generally have a grasp on the function of our texts. We run into this problem on occasion when Scientists claim they can pinpoint the date of the crucifixion through tracking earthquakes because one of the Gospels mentions an earthquake, or we can determine how the Reed Sea was crossed because a gust of wind can sustain itself for a long time and permit the waters to part.

Read the whole thing.  It is worth your time.  And woe to anyone who really thought this scientist was on to something…

 

Abolishing the Laws and the Prophets: A Discussion of the Moral Dilemma of reading Matthew 5

I always was curious about the way people argue clear cut concepts away.  The example that came to mind recently involves the law of the Old Testament–I was reading through James McGrath’s recent blog post and saw the reference to Deuteronomy there, where the law commands that 10% of everything be given to the poor every third year.  But many Christians might say, “Well that is the Old Testament and we don’t need to follow that.”  This argument however fails to take into account Jesus’ own words (as portrayed by the evangelists).

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5.17-18)

Some might say, well that passage (or some variant from another Gospel, e.g. ) was fulfilled with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but that doesn’t quite add up.  I recognize that this might be the standard apologetic argument.  But consider a few things first:

(1) The Gospel authors are not writing as witnesses (certainly not as independent witnesses) to a historical Jesus.  They were writing some decades later, having gone through a war with the Romans, seeing the Temple looted and destroyed, watching their people die.  The evangelists were probably not writing through a mindset that the Old Law had been fulfilled.  As apocalypticists, the writers of the Gospels saw the end as coming–in the future–which is why they predict Jesus will return.

(2) If Jesus existed, these are probably not Jesus’ real words.  As authors removed by some distance (both time and location) from the 30’s CE, they are portraying events which they understood through a tradition contemporary to their own time (at least that is the hope, since this is the best case scenario).  So why would the evangelists portray Jesus as saying this?  It seems out of place; if Jesus fulfilled these things at his resurrection, why does he not mention it then?  Why in the middle of the narrative after a conversation about the law? And why does the abolishing happen at the world’s end?  Again, a very apocalyptic statement–the world ends (along with the destruction of the old covenant) and a new one (with the new law established by the return of Jesus) takes it place.  But until that happens, the old laws remain in place.

(3) It is worth mentioning also that Jesus did not fulfill the law.  He did not complete the role of messiah.  There were things he needed to accomplish that he had not yet done–one of which, perhaps the most important, was to bring about the end of the world with his subsequent return.  Clearly the end had not happened yet, though it seemed like it was due to both the Gospel writers who, when they wrote this line, also wrote that he would return within the lifetimes of those who were reading their good news, and to Paul who believed Jesus would come quickly.  So the function of this passage in Matthew, and subsequent passages like it, is to reenforce the political and theological position that despite all the tragedy, nothing would change–not yet–until Jesus returned.

(4) The concept behind the denouncement of the old laws really stems from Paul, not Jesus.

But for the modern man, removed by 2000 years, I can understand why there is an aversion to the old laws.  After all, we don’t really want people going about stoning disobedient children (proving once more that even in antiquity, people had trouble tolerating crying babies at the theater, at markets, other public venues) or killing someone for working on the Sabbath, right?  At least most of us don’t want that.  And so it has become, for fundamentalists most of all, a bit of a hard decision.  Do they manipulate Jesus’ words and his actions in order to ignore the command to obey the old laws or do they follow them and lose face with the public?

And this is the moral dilemma.  For many people, they believe Jesus will be coming back, so does that mean they should start looking to the Old Testament and the 613 mitzvot for answers?  But I don’t believe we can simply accept this verse in Matthew as something that can be dismissed or ignored.  It is there.  It means what it means.  But that is partly why I believe that we need to look at the Bible for what it is (that is to say, not a book about laws relevant for our current age) rather what we want it to be (a book of laws relevant for our current age).  In other words, we can continue to appreciate the Bible, but recognize that it stands at a place and time different than our own.  The Bible cannot help us sort through our modern day problems–at least not in the way many evangelicals or fundamentalists would like us to believe.  We may look to it, as well as other ancient texts, for some engagement of the morality–not all of it is bunk (though what is left has been said better by others throughout the history of writing, both prior to and after the canonization of the texts).  But we must look inside ourselves, at our problems now, with a clear eye towards the future.

 

 

 

James McGrath is Finally (Almost) Getting It!

I hope James doesn’t mind the title of this blog.  I have been following the recent discussion of the ‘Social Media’ and ‘Myth’ discussion with interest, though I will have to blog my own thoughts on it soon.  I was pleasantly surprised to see this comment from James:

And even if it were so applied, it presumably wouldn’t convince the mythicists, who are determined to be denialists, while for mainstream scholars it might simply confirm what the evidence already points to.

Was the Historical Jesus on Facebook?.

But James still is using this term ‘mythicist’ in a wide, umbrella-type format that is problematic, since not all mythicists can be lumped into this.  Perhaps he might amend the statement to read something like:

“And even if it were so applied, it presumably wouldn’t convince many mythicists, those who are determined to be denialists, while for the mainstream scholars it might simply confirm what they believe the evidence already points to.”

See the difference?  One is hyperbolic, the other is far more accurate and erudite.  And fair.  So maybe James will consider rewriting that paragraph in a manner akin to what I have rewritten above?

Incidentally, it might also be worth mentioning that simply because someone has a new method, it does not necessarily mean that method is useful or will provide any particular information within a different field of study.  So I am not in agreement with James that by simply applying the method, it would suddenly prove the validity of the historicity of the figure of Jesus.  One does not simply apply the same method the way, across all types of texts.  That is irresponsible scholarship, and I’m sure James would agree.

Minimalists Re-enact the Last Supper

Here are my minimalist heroes, friends, and colleagues in Amsterdam proving once again that reception is everything.

NP Lemche and Philip Davies on the left, L.L. Grabbe and Thomas L. Thompson in the center.

Here is my re-imagining of the event:

I have been fooling around with editing software this evening and I think I’ve got the right combination of texture and clarity here.

 

George Athas perceptively remarks: “Minimalistically, there is no bread, no wine, and fewer disciples than we thought.  And come to think of it, it isn’t even clear whether we have a Jesus or not.”

Brilliant!  H/T Jim West.

Thomas Thompson Clarifies his Position on the Figure of Jesus

In a followup to his article, he writes:

In an article (‘The Historiography of the Pentateuch: 25 Years after Historicity’ Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 13, 1999, 258-283) I have discussed why I think it is very difficult to establish the historicity of figures in biblical narrative, as the issue rather relates to the quality of texts one is dealing with. I work further on this issue in my Messiah Myth of 2005. Here I argue that the synoptic gospels can hardly be used to establish the historicity of the figure of Jesus; for both the episodes and sayings with which the figure of Jesus is presented are stereotypical and have a history that reaches centuries earlier. I have hardly shown that Jesus did not exist and did not claim to. Rather, I compared our knowledge about Jesus to our knowledge of figures like Homer. As soon as we try to identify such an historical figure, we find ourselves talking about the thematic elements of stories.

I do not distance myself from ‘mythicists’ as I do not see this term as referring to any scholars I know.
Thomas

Thomas L. Thompson
Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

And he followed up criticisms with the following:

I do not deal with it–and am neither negative nor positive about it. Normally, I work with what is going in biblical scholarship and generally do not have any opinion about bloggers–whether or not you disagree with them.

You are quite right that I do not recall our previous discussion, but I am aware of the difference of such a question in regard to the New Testament and it is therefore that I have been involved in publishing the book with Thomas Verenna, Is This Not the Carpenter?, which takes up the issues you refer to.
In choosing elements which might deal well with questions of whether the narratives reflect historical realities, I purposely chose elements which New Testament scholars saw as unequivocally historical–taking up the Jesus seminar’s certain ipsissima verba of Jesus. I think I have shown that they are obviously not what these scholars have claimed.

I think he is quite clear and this directly supports what I have said elsewhere.  We have to be careful with the labels we use; using labels in a manner that is akin to McCarthyism.  But what cannot be ignored here is Thompson’s underlying position that our sources have serious limitations.  In that I believe he is absolutely correct.

Is Technology Becoming Too Powerful?

This is a very serious concern.  Reported today on MSNBC:

Stuart Crabb, a director in the executive offices of Facebook, naturally likes to extol the extraordinary benefits of computers and smartphones. But like a growing number of technology leaders, he offers a warning: log off once in a while, and put them down.

In a place where technology is seen as an all-powerful answer, it is increasingly being seen as too powerful, even addictive.

The concern, voiced in conferences and in recent interviews with many top executives of technology companies, is that the lure of constant stimulation — the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates — is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions.

via NYT: Tech firms warn of gadgets’ power – Technology & science – The New York Times – NBCNews.com.

Have you ever felt a phantom vibration? You may already be addicted to your gadgets.  I know this happens to me a lot.  I’ll be sitting at my desk, writing or researching, and I’ll feel a buzz in my pocket, think I hear a humming, and reach for my phone and realize I left it in the other room, or it is turned off (rarely), or in the room but away from me.  And when I go to check it, nothing–no call, no text, no alert notification whatsoever.  The scary thing is I can recall these sorts of phantom calls happening since I had a cell phone, back in the early 2000’s.  That means that this phenomenon has been occurring for at least a decade and I have been addicted for that long.

The dangers here are not just addiction, trouble focusing, and limited attention span, but also the physical stress these electronics are putting on us.  How many times do we check Facebook a day?  How many times do we look at phones for a text?  We do it so unconsciously; because we crave the social attention we get from updating our status, uploading photos, forwarding along memes.   If you’re like me, you’re one of the 68% of Americans who suffer hallucinations in the form of phantom vibrations.

That is scary.  But one must ask, how do we stop it?  You cannot stop technology since society and technology are so intricately connected–our economics depend on it now; we are forever a part of the revolution and evolution of the technological aeon and we cannot simply ignore it.  So where does that leave us?  We may put our phones away for a bit, maybe step away from the computer–pick up a book, go outside, do something without our technology.  But the fact remains that we have to come back to it.  At some point, we have to come back.  Whether for our jobs, for our family, for our entertainment, for our livelihoods.

So what is to be done?

 

On Academic Pricing and ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’

Ever since my book released, I have had a lot of people ask me about the price.  Most are friends and family who are not associated with academic publishing, so the typical cost of a book for them is between $5-$15, like the price of a trade paperback one might pick up at Barnes and Noble.  I have finally found some time to write this; since recent reviews of my book, while overwhelmingly positive (so far), have also brought up the issue of the price (sells at $110).

So my point here is two-fold; first, while the book is expensive, I don’t believe the price should factor into book reviews (in fact I had an interesting conversation with Michael Halcomb about this issue recently, and the fruits of that conversation will be born out below) and second I believe someone should write a defense about the pricing, with some caveats.

Clearly academic pricing can be outrageous. Look up anything by Brill and be prepared to fall over when you see compendiums ranging from $600-$1100!  $1100 is, for some, a rent check or a mortgage payment.   Even standard monographs (with 80 less pages than my edited collection) like this one–http://www.brill.nl/use-anonymous-characters-greek-tragedy –that actually looks good, is going to cost a buyer more money than my book.  Even paperbacks are expensive, normally costing from $35-$70 in the lower ranges and $75-$95 in the higher ranges.

But keep in mind what books like mine really are: collections of essays from over a dozen academics. Each chapter is a researched publication on its own, generally worthy of any academic journal. And one should consider how much those cost if purchased individually.  On average, either through JSTOR or EBSCOHOST or any of those online journal storage sites, one 12-page article is upwards of $15 [and that is on the cheap end–more like $30]; so if one were to buy 14 articles at about 12 pages in length separately, the costs would exceed $210; and many of the papers in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ exceed 12 pages (so actually it would cost more).  And these are for digital copies.  If one were to purchase stand-alone volumes (i.e., monographs) expressing these same ideas by these scholars (even if all the books retailed at $20–which is incredibly low since many are academic publications upwards of $35–that would still be more than this collection) in the same sort of format, one would probably go hungry for a week.

Granted, you may get more pages for your buck by purchasing all of these individual books but not all of it will deal with this particular subject matter (Jesus’ historicity) nor will they likely have the impressive sort of scholarship surrounding this subject (a good portion of the chapters in my volume are refreshingly original and groundbreaking in many ways).  So you’re much better off just saving up and picking up a copy of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ from a discounted price (many distributors are offering the volume for around $85-$86, which is a significant discount—about 22%) than spending more money on multiple volumes on these subjects which may not be as critical or engaging.

So this is a reason why I believe this volume really is worth the price. I hope it goes to paperback, because I would like it if the book were more affordable for everyone else besides scholars, but I don’t believe the price is out of reach for most people.  And frankly if everyone waits around for a paperback, it may never come–paperback books are only produced when sales of the hardback make a paperback production worth it.  So waiting for this book to arrive in paperback to buy it is self-defeating.  If everyone waits around expecting the price to lower–it may never happen.  But those who have the means should consider the hardback anyway–it looks better on a shelf and survives longer than paperbacks.

Something else to consider: This book did take four years of work from everyone involved and that makes the price worth it if only so I might someday, in the distant future, break even.  So this is why I take some offense when I read reviewers writing about how great this volume is, and then go off on tangents about the price. It seems more like filler than anything else and some reviewers may get the wrong idea; that is to say, some reviewers may read ‘this book is way too expensive’ and receive that to mean ‘This book is great, but not that great.’  I hope that is not what my reviewers are suggesting (it doesn’t seem like they are, based upon the content), but it is possible that some may misunderstand the reviews in this way.

My other concern though is even if the price were halved (if my book were selling for $55) I’m not sure it would do any better.  If someone can afford to buy the book at $55 right away, in a week or two (whenever they get their next paycheck) they can afford $110.  And I’ve read reviews where people complain about books which are as low as $30.  And if a book sells a handful of copies a month, it will take years for the publishing house to see a profit.  The argument that ‘if books sold for less money, they would sell more’ is only true in certain instances.  When there is a high demand, when there is a bestseller, when people care about the issues.  As popular as the historical questions may be about the figure of Jesus, not everyone can make as much money on these questions as Bart Ehrman.  Publishers have to be realistic.

But Richard Carrier and Bill Hamby do raise an important issue.  Most likely, publishers could probably afford to lower the cost of academic texts.  And if the whole of the academic publishing community were to make a concerted effort to lower prices at once, it may make a difference.  I also think that academic publishers should consider lowering prices if only because I do believe that the internet will make academic publishing obsolete in the future–perhaps not in the next decade, but soon enough.  There is certainly a debate to be had about this, which is why I am writing on it, but I don’t believe the answer is ‘tell the publishers to lower prices’ because that can’t be the answer; academic publishers need to price high to break even because frankly there just isn’t much interest in whether or not the spaces in between the Greek mean much, or if the reception of the pastorals was such and such; only people in specialized areas of research need these books; it is bad business planning to price books low that won’t sell many copies.  I would like to think my book is the exception, maybe it is, but the publisher can’t take that chance.  People would start to lose jobs and that would be terrible.

UPDATE 5/15/13: The paperback version is now available for preorder and released at the end of July (…ceteris paribus) and is listed for $17.71!  So if you wanted a copy but couldn’t afford it before, it should be reasonably easier to acquire now.

Thomas Bolin Reviews ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’

He writes:

The question of whether or not any historical figure lies behind the early Christian literary portrayals of Jesus of Nazareth has occupied a strange place in the history of New Testament scholarship. On the one hand, those who argued that Jesus is a fictional creation of the evangelists were long ostracized from both the academy and the church (two entities with multiple overlapping constituencies). On the other hand, the question at the root of mythicist project is the same that underlies much of mainstream New Testament scholarship, namely how much early Christian theological concerns have influenced the content of the canonical Gospels.This collection represents the best discussion of this issue now available. Both established and up and coming scholars from around the world address the mythicist question from a variety of different perspectives and methodologies.

via Review of Is This Not The Carpenter? Thompson & Verenna, eds. (Thomas Bolin) – Academia.edu.

His conclusion:

And indeed, apart from the strength of the individual contributions, the entire volume hangs together very well, due to its coherent organization. This well-edited and attractive volume marks an important milestone in the debate concerning mythicism in New Testament scholarship, and it is to be hoped that others like it will follow.

It is well worth your time to read the whole thing.

It’s Official! ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ is Out Now!

Dear readers, friends, and colleagues,

I am pleased to announce that I have heard word this afternoon of the publication of the volume ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’: The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus (CIS Series; Equinox), edited by Thomas L. Thompson and I.  Stock will be available over the next few weeks (some distributors in the UK have already received inventory, like Amazon.co.uk and the Book Depository, which has ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ available for about $86 and $85 respectively; quite the discount considering the normal price of $110).  North American distributors should get stock in by the first week of August (though I hope stock will arrive much sooner).

First some background.  For those who don’t know, this project started four years ago, over a skype conversation.  It went something like this (I’m approximating from memory–reception history and all that):

Me: “You know, why aren’t these questions being asked?”
Thomas (amused): “I ask that myself; I’m not sure.”
Me (naively): “These questions deserve to be asked.  Maybe we can work on a project together.”
Thomas (thinking I meant a symposium of sorts): “That is a huge undertaking; where will we host it?  Who would come?”
Me (slightly confused): “Well we wouldn’t have to go anywhere necessarily to edit a volume, would we?”
Thomas (laughing): “Oh, I see!  Yes, yes, well first you have to define the questions you want the volume to ask.”
Me: “Okay, where do I start?”
Thomas: “Start by writing me a proposal with what you want the book to be about and we’ll go from there.”

And I did.  I wrote up the first draft of the proposal and Thomas sent it back to me full of red ink.  So I rewrote it.  Same results.

I wrote that proposal four times before a draft caught his eye and he said, “Now I think you’re onto something.  Let’s say you revise this one more time and then we’ll see where we are at.”  And so I did….and finally, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, we had a solid proposal.

One thing about working on this project initially was that I had no formal training (back in 2008, though in 2009 I was back in school) and I had some rather bizarre misunderstandings about academic processes.  A lot of the very basic principles of academic discourse were foreign to me, despite the fact that I had spent many years researching the subject prior to starting it.

Looking back I was a completely different person when we started; I would like to believe this volume helped me grow, to become a better person, to become a better academic.  In fact is was partially Thomas’ urging, partially my desire to become credible, and partially some other personal dilemmas that were the catalyst to my return to school; I would probably still be living the same life I had been living in 2008 had it not been for this project, so in a lot of ways–both personally and professionally–I owe a lot to this collection of essays.  Consequently, I owe a lot to a great deal of people as well.

That said, I would like to take a moment to thank some individuals.  First and most importantly I have to thank Thomas Thompson for his patience in putting up with my incessant questions and middle-of-the-day-phone calls (for him anyway) to ask about something or another.  Without him, I doubt this project would have gotten off the ground; or if it had, I wouldn’t have been introduced to all the wonderful people I have had the pleasure of working with on this project.  Thomas has been a mentor to me since day one, when he responded to a series of questions I had for him about all sorts of topics.  With much enjoyment I listened to every one of his anecdotes and had more than a few laughs.  I have not stopped learning from him and hope that he will continue to relieve me of all my pesky bad habits and faults for years to come.

Also, much credit is due to the contributors, without whom this volume would not be as stunning as it is; Niels Peter Lemche, Roland Boer, Jim West, Lester Grabbe, K.L. Noll, Ingrid Hjelm, James Crossley, Emanuel Pfoh, Joshua Sabih, Mogens Müller, and Bob Price.  Wonderful people one and all. I may not agree with them on every detail, but I can say that this volume does not lack in talent and lucidity.  This project has born fruits in the form of many new friendships that I continue to cherish.  I hope the readers out there will enjoy their contributions to scholarship as much as I have.  I’m sure Thomas shares my sentiments.

On a more personal note, it takes a lot to trust a relatively unknown person like me; especially initially, when I was just some kid with an interest in history.  So as far as that goes, I hope that the final product is an indication of my respect for that given trust.  Thank you all for believing in this project and, in some ways, for trusting in me.  It says a lot about your character and quality.

I’d also like to thank Equinox for graciously accepting this volume for publication, and dealing politely with my nagging here and there.  Both Val and Tristan have been saints in this whole process, even going out of their way to explain things to me which–in my great ignorance–I’m sure was second nature to them.  I hope to work with equinox in the future and will recommend Equinox to other scholars in search of an excellent academic publishing house.

Finally, I’d like to thank Matthew C. and Kim H. for their generous contributions to my research materials over the last few years.  They are both excellent people and I am lucky to have them as friends.

Now, some minor errata…oh, yes, there is some of that…. no book is perfect, not even this one.

Having not seen the most recent publication yet (my copy is on its way and won’t arrive for a few weeks), I was dismayed when I opened the book (published last year–apparently one of several conference copies that were lost in the mail) and saw, in the very beginning of the introduction, a correction that I had stressed to the copy-editor to fix on several occasions.  It was sent in with every draft of the manuscript–including the final manuscript review–and mentioned in many email exchanges (because it was never changed whenever I looked at it).   The error is an embarrassing one.

In the quotation of Mark 6:3, instead of  ὁ τέκτων it reads ὁ τέκνων.   The difference may appear subtle, but the first means ‘craftsman’ (see my discussion here) and the second means ‘children’.  I’m certain it was missed when all of the Unicode Greek font had to be changed into SPIonic (to the terror of all involved), but needless to say I was not at all happy to see it in the final print edition I have, but when I saw it in the final edition there was nothing I could do.  I was not permitted to see the final post-galley PDF file that was sent to print (because of legal issues; the file could potentially be leaked and made available for free to people which would cut back on sales) so there was no way to be sure if any of my corrections made it (though, as I said, Equinox did a fantastic job despite this hiccup).

So with that glaring error pointed out for all to see, this post must come to an end.  But hopefully you’ll pick up a copy or ask your library to pick up a copy and, maybe–if the Publishing gods are happy with us–they will put out a paperback version which will be more affordable.

Recent book reviews of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ can be found here:

Additional details:

Another Review of “Is This Not the Carpenter?”

Hamby provides a review of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ here: http://www.examiner.com/review/is-this-not-the-carpenter-examines-the-historical-jesus

Some brief info about this review.  First, this is a book review written by a layperson for laypeople.  So he is coming from a nonacademic stance and reviewing it for the common person, who has no real background in these issues.  And I’ll demonstrate how this has an impact below.  First, a snippet:

….it’s a great book. I will be using my copy as a reference, probably for years to come. I’m glad I read it. The problem for Thompson and Verenna, the book’s editors, is that they are fighting an uphill battle on two sides. On the one hand, they’re bound to appeal to scholarly readers precisely because “the establishment” doesn’t take minimalism and mythicism seriously. So they have to make this appeal to the establishment — except that the establishment is likely to dismiss it without reading it, since they’re already convinced that these sorts of scholars are melodramatic hacks not worthy of attention.

On another hand, the problem of consensus is exacerbated by the public’s lack of interest or knowledge. It’s very easy for establishment scholars, when they do leave their ivory towers, to wave their hands dismissively and haughtily espouse the “obvious” nature of Jesus’ historicity, which everyone knows. And, of course, everyone thinks they know that Jesus obviously existed. But ask the average American to explain even the basics of the case for historicity (or mythicism, or agnosticism), and there’s about a 90% chance they’ll get it completely wrong. The average American — whose religion is founded on the certainty of Jesus’ existence — needs to know what real historians say about it, but they have no idea. They need a book like this. Desperately. Only… if this book were written at a layperson’s level of scholarship, scholars wouldn’t take it seriously, which would only reinforce the layperson’s belief that the scholars were right.

The belief in the certainty of Jesus’ existence on earth is a juggernaut. Publicly, it is accepted by millions in America and billions world-wide, mostly through circular logic, in which the Bible says Jesus existed, and the Bible is therefore true because Jesus obviously did exist. In the towers, “consensus” and the longevity of the belief that Jesus must have existed rule the day, often without question, for fear of academic censure or ridicule. The problem is that there are significant challenges to this belief, and they require more than a sermon or a pamphlet to understand. For any readers who want to be better informed, and at least give all sides of the question a fair hearing, “Is This Not the Carpenter?” is one of the best compendiums covering the widest range of topics available to the public. Except that it’s prohibitively priced, so the public will be very reluctant to buy it.

The criticism he raises, like Carrier, comes down to price.  I do believe that there is a strong interest in this subject among nonacademics that the publisher may be missing (so I hope to eventually see a paperback), but if that is the only criticism, I think I’m okay with it.

But some parts of the review need to be corrected.  First and foremost, this statement is incorrect:

Every American should own a copy, and should read it cover to cover, if for no other reason than to have an accurate idea of where actual scholars stand — not pastors, not pundits, and not theologians — but actual scholars, whose job is to understand the intricacies of historical narrative.

While every contributor (with me being the only exception) is an ‘actual scholar’, there seems to be a general misconception among laypeople that theologians are somehow not scholars.  This could not be further from the truth.  Theologians make up some of the most critical scholars out there–including the co-editor, Thomas L. Thompson, who taught OT Theology for years.  Theology is not the same thing as ‘apologetics’ and I believe that Hamby meant to say ‘apologetics’ instead of ‘theologians.’

It is also wrong because Jim West, while also a scholar, is a pastor.  In fact he is a Baptist pastor!  But what this demonstrates is the broad range if contributors who come from different backgrounds to discuss this very relevant issue.  That Jim West is also extremely critical (he is a minimalist, after all) proves something of what I wrote about earlier today–that we fabricate mythological constructs and place people under them without giving them their due.  I owe both Joel Watts and Michael Halcomb for pointing this out for me as I seem to have glossed over it my first read-through.

Also worthy of note is the complaint about Emanuel Pfoh’s paragraph in French.  It is important to note that Pfoh is not a native English speaker (in fact, many of the contributors aren’t), and his grasp of language is impressive–almost impressive as his article, which is downright spectacular.  Granted, some laypeople will not appreciate this, which is why this book is geared towards scholars and is published academically.  I can understand Hamby’s frustration with this, but chances are that someone who purchases this volume will expect this level of academic nuance and should appreciate, above all else, Pfoh’s desire to preserve the value of the quoted text by giving it in the author’s original language, rather than butchering it by translating it into English (through the lens of his native language).

That said, I do appreciate Hamby’s review, even if it contains some minor problems (which are easily correctable).  I’m not sure I approve of his use of my book to establish some political point (as with his last few paragraphs), but I do find the review, for the most part, fair from a perspective of a layperson.

Addendum: 

I believe that this book is worth the money.  Consider that over a dozen scholars contributed their time to this book. That means that instead of writing their own books, or submitting their papers to other journals, they submitted them to ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’.  All the work put into this book amounted to four years worth.  That is a lot of time, from the first draft of the proposal, to the abstracts, to the collection of drafts, to revising submissions, to the copy-editing and typesetting, to the indexing (that shaved off ten years of my life for sure), to the final review of the manuscript, to the changes in Greek font (unicode originally, then to SPIonic because that is what Equinox uses), to the drafting of the cover design–the marketing, the distribution, it all takes time.  And it all takes money.

As it stands, the price won’t change and there is nothing that can be done about it. The price is comparable with other books Equinox has published (cf. any book over 250 pages hardback) and hopefully it will go to paperback, where we will see a significant decrease in price (like Muller’s book which recently went to paperback, also James Crossley’s book which released in both)–making it affordable for others.  The best thing that can be done is to recommend this to your local library and university library.  Personally, compared to Brill or some other European publishers, I think Equinox’s prices to be fair–in fact they are priced on the low end of the spectrum, where some publishers sell the same sized book for $175 or more.

 

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