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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