Another Example of Misreading: James McGrath on Thomas Thompson

James McGrath writes:

He points out, as he does in his book, that Jesus in the Gospels is depicted using motifs and echoes from literature about earlier royal figures. It is hard to imagine that anyone could make a claim to kingship in a Jewish context without doing so. And so it is not clear why anyone thinks that the points in Thompson’s book have any bearing on the historicity of Jesus.

via An Odd Diatribe from Thomas L. Thompson.

But James, you need to read it all.  Because Thomas’ book has no bearing on historicity.  And he even makes that abundantly clear:

Bart Ehrman has recently dismissed what he calls mythicist scholarship, my Messiah Myth from 2005 among them, as anti-religious motivated denials of a historical Jesus and has attributed to my book arguments and principles which I had never presented, certainly not that Jesus had never existed. Rather than dealing with the historicity of the figure of Jesus, my book had argued a considerably different issue, which, however, might well raise problems for many American New Testament scholars who historicize what was better understood as allegorical. Rather than a book on historicity, my The Messiah Myth offered an analysis of the thematic elements and motifs of a particular myth, which had a history of at least 2000 years.

That is the point; evidence that Ehrman, and apparently now James McGrath, have not read Thompson’s The Messiah Myth.  Had they read it, they would know that his book does not address such a question.  So again, we have scholars who would rather spend time attacking strawmen than the actual issues.

8 Responses

  1. […] didn’t like that. He suggests that because McGrath doesn’t believe Thompson and then sees that Thompson is […]

  2. […] Another Example of Misreading: James McGrath on Thomas Thompson […]

  3. Tom, it would have been very easy for Thomas Thompson to come out and say that the mythicists – and he himself – are wrong to think that the depiction of Jesus in terms of mythology about messiahs has any bearing on whether there was a historical Jesus. He seems in the B&I piece to want to both say that and not say that. If he clarifies his stance, I will gladly say something more complementary. But having read much of his book, I agree that it is irrelevant to the question of Jesus’ historicity. The question is whether Thompson is clear on this, and whether he will helpful point this out to the mythicists who claim him as an ally.

  4. Thomas Thompson sent this along:


    Dear Tom,
    I have been away for a few days and just read this now.. I think you read me well. The point of my Messiah Myth in regard to historicity relates to whether we can use the gospel narratives and sayings to write a life of Jesus–not whether Jesus (= cue name for “saviour”) may have existed. That is more in the direction of what our new book is about. I am not sure whether the issue here shouldn’t be whether McGrath has read my book—He implies that he didn’t finish it. Has he read Bart Ehrman’s book? That is what my brief response on Bible and Interpretation dealt with, not really the issues of my book. If McGrath sincerely wishes to have me respond to his questions, please ask him to direct them to me and to the issues of the book I wrote. I am retired and unpaid for my work and I will address what mythicists do or do not write about–or what conservative and fundamentalist scholars like Ehrman write about Jesus, whenever I find it interesting to do so. Between you and me (and any who might come to read this) I find the way Ehrman has used the term “mythicist” unethical. In my experience, scholarly tradition requires that a critical response be addressed to the scholars one has objections to and that one not be ambiguous. Ehrman groups me with the mythicists. I have the impression that McGrath does not. As I have never been introduced to McGrath and as he has never sought to address me directly, would you ask him for me whether he attaches such a silly manipulative title to me?

    By the way, Our book: Is This Not the Carpenter? comes out next week and I hope that Ehrman (and McGrath?) might read it–not just a page or two, but the whole thing!


    Thomas L. Thompson
    Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen

  5. Thomas has been introduced to me and has no need to use a mediator for communication. He wrote a book, and an online article, and now for some reason has chosen not to address comments about either directly. All this simply makes what already seemed strange seem stranger still. I know for a fact that Thomas understands the problems with those without profound expertise in Hebrew Bible and the origins of ancient Israel commenting on those issues. I will be very surprised if he cannot grasp that the subject of mythicism which Ehrman addresses is a parallel scenario within the scholarly field in which Ehrman and I work. If his interest is not sufficiently grabbed so as to lead him to either support mainstream historical critical work on the Gospels, or to either side with or distance himself from the online non-scholarly critics of such scholarship, then so be it.

  6. James,

    You misunderstand, Thomas asked me to publish this here as he was having some trouble with WordPress. If there is no need for a mediator, then why do you even comment here? You have the ability to email him directly. So what is your point?

    What is strange here is your continued goal-post-shifting and misreading of Thompson. That is really the upsetting part in all of this.

  7. Tom, I see no goal-post-shifting, nor any reason why participating in a conversation on a blog seems to you to be mediated conversation, nor do I understand why you seem to be upset and perplexed by what he wrote and what I wrote in response.

  8. […] Another Example of Misreading: James McGrath on Thomas Thompson […]

This blog is no longer in use; NO comments will post.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: