Clogging: Blogging About My ‘Introduction to the New Testament’ Class (Week 2)

So this semester, I am taking an Introduction to New Testament course.  This is a 200 level course and I’m pretty excited about it so far (if only because I predict an easy ‘A’).  While I anticipate a good grade (I’ve been studying the subject independently for years now and have published on the subject), I have an excellent professor–who is both clever and attentive to the details–and am guaranteed to learn much from her as the course progresses throughout the semester.

The one gripe I have–of course there is always one, right?–is that we are using Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (5th Edition).  Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent ‘introduction’ book in some respects, especially when dealing with Textual Criticism.  For the average student in the class who is only taking the course for kicks, because they think it will reinforce their beliefs, or because they need it as a prerequisite for another course, I imagine it works out just fine as it covers the mainstream view nicely.  But it has some factual errors and glosses over too many important details that I feel are rather important.   On the plus side, my professor recognizes the books shortcomings.

Anyway, some important subject matter before going forward.

One of the really fantastic things about this class is that it really gives me a new take on exactly what it is that the general person knows about the Bible.  As someone who has been involved in academia for going on five years now and who is intricately involved in the Biblioblogging community, it is easy to lose sight over the little things–for example, there are many who still get hung up on how to define ‘manuscript’ or ‘variant’ (something I see as common knowledge).  Even New Testament terms like ‘Textual Criticism’ are old hat for me.  So being *in a class* and listening to conversations from fellow students (many of whom have not been as involved as I have) is a really important learning experience for me.

Since I am blogging through the class, I should state some general practices of the blog here for the reader so they know where I stand.  First, I will not be giving away any test or quiz information about the course (sorry to all the students who will be taking the same class in the years to come).  Second, all opinions expressed herein are mine alone.  All feedback and comments are welcome, so long as you follow the comment policy.

Now, some thoughts on this past week’s readings and conversations.  We started off by reading about Textual Criticism and the state of our current textual evidence.  Nothing here is necessarily new to me, but perhaps some of you will enjoy it.

Textual Criticism (briefly defined):

  • Textual Criticism is the academic process of analyzing the thousands of variant manuscripts in an attempt to locate the most recent context based upon our manuscript attestation.

Bulleted list of some benefits and problems with Textual Criticism:

    1. Textual Criticism (TC) plays a big part in our conversations over the next few weeks.  It’s very important and, in my mind, supports our understanding of the manner in which the transmission and reception of the New Testament texts occurred throughout the early Christian centuries.  But there are some factors that limit TC as a firm and (always) useful methodology.
      • We don’t have the autographa.  So one has to ask: How accurate are our manuscripts? How can we even begin to answer this question?
      • Without the autographa, we have no direct knowledge of what the original texts might have said–or how much was added or removed, or how ‘controversial’ it might have been compared to our accepted textual representation.
      • All the current Bible’s are the products of scholarly reconstruction.  In other words, the Bible we now possess (or more accurately, the version of the Bible you use) is not ‘the original word of god’ but the result of scholars picking and choosing (voting is often involved) on which particular variant is accepted into the volume.  Some variants disagree on rather important details (i.e., whether or not Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ in Lk 23.34–some ancient manuscripts omit this and many believe this was a later addition to the Gos. of Luke; or it may have been removed and then later re-added, but who knows for sure?).  So this process can–with the example given in class of Paul writes (or is portrayed to have written) “women must be silent in church”, it’s inclusion or removal from a version can produce an edition of the New Testament that is more suitable for a feminist or more suitable for a misogynist (it is crazy how extremely dichotomous the texts can be, the implications of how this might impact exegesis notwithstanding).
    1. TC also takes much for granted (i.e., it doesn’t analyze the reasons why a text might have been altered in a specific way, or if it does, it neglects imitatio or reception criticism).  The function of the text is lost.  For example, the very definition of ‘variant’ presumes a standard by which all other manuscripts have deviated–it implies, essentially, that a variant is ‘wrong’.  This, in my humble opinion, is not how ancient texts should be read.  “Right” and “wrong”, “standard” and “deviated” are terms that are not helpful, and perhaps should not applied anachronistically.  That isn’t to say that anyone in particular is making such an argument (though some do), simply that such language has the context to evoke these sorts of thoughts about the manuscripts.  Besides, it is the function of the text that is most relevant to the conversation, since we do not have any of the originals–all we have are the representations of copies of originals and at best that can only give us an understanding of what later Christians valued (certainly not the first ‘Christians’).  We can only refer to the books of the New Testament as ‘the version we now have’; this limits our understanding of the history of Early Christianity (to the point where one has to question if we have any evidence of the period at all).
      • This also means that using this method to date texts is essentially useless.  While we can see how the texts we have were altered and transmitted, what we don’t have is a grounding for the composition of the texts (since, again, we don’t have the originals).  How were these texts composed, when, and with what narrative constructions in mind?  Was this originally a vocal/oral narrative?  If so, how much had that original performance changed in its telling prior to someone writing it down?  What was added between its performance form and its written form?  Did it start as just a passion play or did it evolve into that?  Did the original narrative contain  an infancy or birth narrative that is now lost from our version of Mark (probably not, but who knows)?  Without answers to these questions, all dating is tentative and even textually it is impossible to know how late or early our Gospels are (though there are many tentative arguments).
      • As an example to the above, Mark 13 is used often to date Mark after (or before, depending on your particular theological beliefs) the fall of the Temple since he “predicts” the fall (the argument goes: Mark must have written this in after the destruction of the Temple, after 70 CE, to give Jesus credibility as a prophet).  But parts of Mark 13 have already been altered in the manuscript evidence (e.g., 13.14), and our earliest copy of this passage comes to us via the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, dated to the 4th Century (so far as I’m aware).  between the time the Gospel of Mark is alleged to have been written to the time we have our earliest extant attestation to this verse, we have roughly 250 years or more.  To put that into context, that is almost as long as we have had the Declaration of Independence (approx. 237 years).  Between that time there had existed hundreds of competing theologies, vying for a chance to win out over the others.  Establishing ones theological framework using texts seemed to have been a common motif during this period, and what better way than to have your variant having a Jesus portrayed as foretelling events.  I’m not saying this is certain, or even probable, but it is likely and with no means to compare it to an original how can one use this as a definitive dating of the composition of a Markan Gospel?  Certainly we can say, “After 70 CE is when this variant of the text originated” but can we really say that ‘Mark composed his Gospel immediately after 70CE’?  I’m not so sure.    Even if this fragment were original to the text, there may be a relative function to it (i.e., Jesus may not be predicting the fall of the current Temple but repeating an ancient motif relating to Solomon’s Temple–a thematic element commonly found in the Hebrew Bible).  Again, this may be why using TC to date may simply be a waste of one’s time.

Awesome moment of the week: The professor used a stack of paper to demonstrate the variants and where most of the manuscripts fall in a timeline.  She set up an impromptu timeline on a desk representing the first four centuries in the Common Era.  Using the paper she immediately “discarded” about 90% of it.  What she had left she leafed out mostly after the 3rd Century CE and then tore up some sheets and spread a few here and there throughout the second and third centuries.  The visual aid was brilliant and clever and I’m sure that anyone in the class who had questions about the manuscript attestation had them solved with this one demonstration.  It was very nicely done.

Addendum: ‘Clogging’ = ‘Course Logging’ or ‘Class Logging’.

Secret of the Savior? Book Makes Some Bizarre Claims

A commenter by the name of Sid Martin left me a note about a forthcoming book he is writing (self-publishing?) on the Gos. Mark which looks to be absolutely dreadful.  Here is the ‘about the book’ section quoted in full:

This book unearths the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Mark is a myth about the history of salvation. Jesus is a process, not a person, the process of God saving, which is what the name Jesus means. Jesus is a symbol of salvation. God is the savior. Jesus is the savior, not incarnate, but personified. That is the secret of the savior. The Gospel of Mark is an allegory of the history of Israel from

the Essenic point of view. Jesus is a serial composite character. Jesus first is Joshua, then David, then the Teacher of Righteousness, who founded the Essenes. There is not just one historical Jesus, there are many historical Jesuses. Be prepared for an exciting adventure in literary archeology. What we are doing is no less than unearthing the hidden history buried beneath the surface story in the earliest Gospel. Nearly everyone agrees that Mark was the first Gospel written. Matthew and Luke are rewrites of Mark. They preserve the basic story in Mark and repeat much of Mark nearly word for word. The story of Jesus is to a remarkable degree dependent on the Gospel of Mark. The Myth of the Messiah in Mark — that is where the story of Jesus really came from. Let’s see how Mark made the whole thing up.

via Secret of the Savior – Home Page.

If you’re not completely sold on the idea that this book will be a huge mistake, read his chapter summary.  What’s more is that he attempts to link in some arguments I’m sympathetic with (i.e., syncretism, early Christianity, intertextuality) but the way he presents his case shows his utter ignorance of these concepts and how they are applied to New Testament.

For example, in his above overview, he writes that the Gos. Mark is “the history of Israel from the Essenic point of view.”  And he attempts to present various reasons for this claim, including some rather bizarre presumptions like:

“Mark has “Jesus” confront the Pharisees over their differences with the  Essenes.”

But Jesus never mentions the Essenes.  In fact the Essenes don’t show up at all in the New Testament.  It is also narrowed thinking to think that Essenes were the only sect who took full ritual baths before eating–there were potentially hundreds of Jewish sects in the region during the Roman period and we only know of about thirty.  The Therapeutae, mentioned by Philo, were so similar to the Essenes discussed in Josephus and Pliny the Elder that some have argued that they are one and the same, the difference being that one allows for marriage while the other does not.  The same could be said of the Pharisees.  In fact, it may have been that the Essenes were a splinter sect from the Pharisees and thus some would have found them to be indistinguishable from each other—another reason why they have no mention in the New Testament.  These points all make Martin’s whole argument here a little moot.

But there is more.  There is always more when a dilettante attempts to write about a subject about which they are unfamiliar.  The fact is we don’t know for sure if the Dead Sea Scrolls were actually written by Essenes or some other sectarian group (in fact it is becoming more accustomed to call the Dead Sea Scrolls ‘sectarian’ rather than ‘Essenic’ writings).  Indeed, all our contemporary accounts of their sect, and those written about them later by Christian theologian Hippolytus, for example, suggest that the Essenes were not confined to one region but to many regions—in every town there were communities of Essenes to be found.  Lawrence Schiffman takes it a step further and argues that the sect at Qumran weren’t Essenes at all, but Zadokites, a sect similar to the Sadduccees.  Further complicating matters, archaeological evidence at Qumran have contradicted certain laws and customs found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, making some scholars question whether or not the scrolls were composed at the site or somewhere else, implying that someone or a group of people just hid the scrolls at the site after the fall of the temple.

Additionally, it may be true that these are not a single collection of sectarian texts but a library of texts which contain content from all sorts of perspectives, which may be why we find competing eschatologies in the scrolls (the place of wisdom vs. the place of law in a community, for example) along with competing messianic expectations (heavenly messiahs vs. Davidic messiahs vs. two messiahs vs. just one messiah).  Granted, these may represent the changing of theological positions over time, but that alone does not explain away these discrepancies.

I don’t see any sort of engagement with any of these issues in Martin’s book and I suspect that in the actual text we will not see any either.  And this is a central part of his thesis!  Imagine what one can find when examining his supporting claims; like his woeful understanding of the healing of the Canaanite woman in Mark 5 as part of a continuing motif of the reversal of the status of the poor and unclean (he falsely labels the woman a “Jerusalem”—not sure where he picks this up from).  The woman is bleeding—not as a result of Herod’s bloody reign, as Martin falsely suggests—as a result of a motif contra Lev. 15.25, which suggests that she is unclean and unable to be touched.  When she falls upon Jesus in faith and is purged of her uncleanliness, it is again a part of the larger play on a series of healings of the unclean, the poor, and destitute through faith and works, so central to the message of Mark 5.  God giveth these sufferings and God taketh away, as it were, through the faith of his followers.

The point in all this is simple: if you aren’t going to deal with the complexities of the scholarship of your subject, then don’t write a controversial book on it.  If you don’t know the subject well enough, don’t write on it.  You’ll confuse people, mislead them, and make the work for real historians more difficult.

Lena Einhorn on the Figure of Jesus and ‘the Egyptian’

Philip Davies sent along Lena Einhorn’s paper from SBL and I thought I’d share it with my readers.  Dr. Einhorn has been known to me since 2008 when an earlier version of this paper came across my desk, submitted to Thomas Thompson and I to review for inclusion into our volume ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’.  While we both enjoyed the paper, we did not see it as a good fit for the volume as a whole.  I am pleased to see that Dr. Einhorn has vetted the paper a great deal and fleshed out some of the concepts a little more and has, in fact, produced quite a compelling paper.  Here is a snippet:

One of the limitations facing historical Jesus studies has been that the New Testament is the only source of first century texts in which Jesus unequivocally is described. This is in spite of the fact that the period in other respects is fairly well documented. Flavius Josephus wrote De bello Judaico and Antiquitates Judaicae in the 70s and the 90s C.E., respectively. Both works describe personalities mentioned in the Gospels: Pilate, Annas, Caiaphas, Quirinius, etc. Josephus also describes several Jewish messianic leaders of the first century: Simon, Athronges, Judas the Galilean, Theudas, ‘The Egyptian’, Menahem, etc. But excepting Testimonium Flavianum (A.J. 18.63-64) – by most scholars considered at least a partial later Christian interpolation – Jesus from Nazareth is not visible in the works of Josephus. Nor was he, according to Photius, described in the now lost works of another first century local historian, Justus of Tiberias. Only from the second century do we begin to see more unequivocal extra-biblical references to Jesus.

The fact that the Gospels describe Jesus as someone with a large following, and one whose trial involved two high priests, the tetrarch of Galilee, and the prefect of Iudaea, heightens the discrepancy between sources.

Jesus-and-the-Egyptian-Prophet-12.11.25.pdf (application/pdf Object)

I must admit I had not considered the role of the robbers in the Gospel narratives as particularly odd until I read her paper.   I am not entirely convinced of her argument (that Jesus and the Egyptian are the same), since I feel that many of the similarities come from a familiarity between some of the Gospel authors an Josephus (that is to say, they imitated Josephus).  But in my humble opinion it is definitely worth a read and should be discussed in greater detail by the community.  The concept behind the robbers in both Josephus and the Gospels does have its own implications that have been missed by many an analysis on the subject.

A Little Doodle to Help You Understand the Nativity

Here is a fun little doodle I drew up today.


Also, I’m refraining from making any comments on the historicity of these narratives (suffice it to say, these events probably never happened).

For additional details, however, check out the following:

Thomas Thompson on Competence and New Testament Scholarship

Thomas Thompson gives it back to Casey on Bible and Interpretation.  We live in exciting times.  It has been educational, watching Thompson’s and Casey’s exchange.  Here is a snippet:

The Messiah Myth, moreover, is neither a book dealing with the history of the New Testament, a history of Jesus nor of the early church. It rather analyzes and attempts to trace the antiquity and nature of the sources for the messiah myth. It is a study in comparative literature. It deals only indirectly with the historicity of Jesus, as it treats many of the proverbs and parables that have been associated with such a figure and it comes to deal with the use of the Gospels’ for such historical questions, only insofar as they are related to the many sayings found in Matthew and Luke—such as the sermons on the mount or, respectively, the plain, which some conservative New Testament scholars, such as those involved in the Jesus seminar—and Maurice Casey—have considered ipsissima verba of Jesus. My purpose was quite different: to demonstrate that they were, in fact, sayings and tropes that were considerably older than either the gospels or any hypothetical, historical Jesus.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Competence and New Testament Scholarship.

Read the rest.

‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ Giveaway Contest!

It is a shame I will not be at SBL this year, but for all my friends going to Chicago for the weekend (enjoy O’Hare…that festering pit of evil they call an ‘airport’) I have a little treat for you.  I have in my possession an additional hardback copy of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ The Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus that I am wiling to part with; so what better way than to have a little contest?

I know everyone has a busy weekend planned, but the deal is this:

  1. Head to the Equinox Publishing table at SBL and find a copy of ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’.
  2. Take a picture with you holding a copy.
  3. Attach a note as to why you think you’d like to have it and send it (and the picture) my way (email or blog or tweet–as long as I get it)!

Most interesting or entertaining picture wins a copy.   Try to keep your minds out of the gutter for this.  As part of the rules of this contest, you’re not required to write a review, but a review would be nice.

I will post all the pictures on my blog and announce the winner next weekend (by Sunday at 9PM, Nov. 25).

The book is priced at $110 so for those interested in picking up a copy but haven’t because of the price, here’s a way to get it without paying anything! Spread the word!


C. Philipp E. Nothaft Discusses Attempts at Dating Jesus’ Life

A new essay over at Bible and Interpretation deserves a look (h/t Jim West).  C. Philipp E. Nothaft writes the following (snippet):

At the same time, however, it is difficult to overlook the ever-widening gap between this quasi-naturalistic quest for the “real” star of Bethlehem and the approaches taken by modern New Testament scholarship where the infancy stories of Matthew and Luke are treated to often devastating historical criticism.Understandably perhaps, astronomers with a bent for solving biblical puzzles in their free time have rarely paid attention to the kind of caveats that were already raised in 1917 by the historian of astrology Franz Boll, to whom the original wording of Matthew’s Greek pointed, if anything, to a certain familiarity with the ancient folk-belief that the birth of each man is accompanied by the apparition of a new star (Pliny, Natural History 2.28).  Others, including the pioneering historian of religion Hermann Usener, had previously gone even further and pointed to a whole range of ancient sources that show how the motif of celestial portents was firmly rooted in the ancient imaginaire surrounding the birth of regal and messianic characters.

You’ll want to read more here.  Then come back.  Back?  Good.

Here is my gripe with this type of historical criticism; it doesn’t work.  It can’t work with the Gospels.  As soon as one starts trying to allocate which parts of the Gospels are that ‘historical kernel’, the narrative is already lost.  Someone says, “Well who would fabricate the concept of a star at the birth of Jesus?” so they presume the star of Bethlehem is true, and then declare that it was ancient man’s incompetence that lead them to believe that the star was merely a comet that happened to coincide with the birth of Jesus–all presumed without a shred of evidence, without a reason to make these baseless claims; all at the expense of the theological tradition, the emulative nature of the narrative, the edifying function of the text.

We must ask ourselves, how is this different than someone claiming that a gust of wind was responsible for the parting of the Red (“Reed”) Sea, or that a natural eclipse caused the darkening of the sun, or that erectile dysfunction was what made the Philistines return the Ark to Israel.  These are all baseless claims made by people who have no real grasp of the function of the text; they care little about why the text was written and simply presume that the authors wrote about ‘what happened’ through some primitive mindset, which runs counter to what we know of the rich cultural traditions of the ANE who, by the time the Gospels were written–even by the time the books of the Hebrew Bible were written, there was a strong grasp of mathematics, of astronomy, of science–even if it is not what have today, it was pretty remarkable what they knew in antiquity.

Those who seek to use this method work under the presumption that these authors were uneducated simple folk, but they weren’t.  They were well educated–they were multilingual, they had at least the very basic grasp of philosophy (though the schools may vary from writer to writer), and they had a grounding in mimesis/imitatio.

The sort of historical criticism used to try to date the events of the text in this manner will always ignore this and therefore prove fruitless.  It does so at the expense of the agendas of the scholars; that is problematic.  If a scholar sets out to show that the turning over the tables in the temple is historical, they show this not with sound evidence but through the creation of new methods which are not helpful and are usually flawed (like the ‘criterion of embarrassment’, which just fails on all levels).*

Nothaft does a decent job in his article on Bible and Interpretation exposing this issue, but I am always concerned when I read comments like:

Understood as a mere approximation, this is not necessarily inconsistent with a birth in 4 BC; but neither does it completely rule out a birth in 1 BC and AD 1, as Dionysius Exiguus seems to have imagined. Unless one wants to give up talk about the birth year of Jesus altogether, it is perhaps still advisable to take into account the opinions of the ancient Church Fathers, who used Luke 3 to deduce a birth in 3 or 2 BC.

The problem of course is that the Church Fathers are far from reliable.  Indeed, Nothaft’s comment that “Since claims about Jesus’ adult years as a preacher in Galilee and Judea are certainly more trustworthy than those about his infancy, it seems that we are left with Luke 3 as the only feasible indication of Jesus’ birth year.” becomes moot when we use the church fathers, as some early traditions suggest that Jesus was 50 years old when he was crucified. Maybe older; it appears as if Jesus is portrayed to have lived up until the time of Trajan, or at least John did–who is suggested to have been a contemporary–which would make them both, or one of them, very, very old when they died (via Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.2-6, for example, and which many an apologist has tried to argue that he never said what he said, even though A.H. 2.6 is very clear on this).  Or that he was born decades earlier than the Gospels suppose (Epiphanius of Salamis, via his Panarion 29.3.3, thought this–that Jesus was born prior to the high priest Alexander, King Herod, and Emperor Augustus; this seems to contradict Nothaft’s claims about consistency earlier in his paper–though it also seems as though Epiphanius contradicts himself on occasion or he isn’t quite clear).  In any case, both of these traditions predate Dionysius Exiguus.

My point here is that the Gospels, like the church fathers, are purveyors of traditions, not ‘fact’, not ‘history’ in the sense of ‘what happened’.  We have to accept this unfortunate truth; the Gospels are just what their ‘genre’ (whatever that might mean) implies: they are the ‘good news’.  They are not historiographies, biographies, or evidence of anything other than a particular tradition (or group of traditions) at a synchronic point, along with the author’s (or group of authors) theological and political perspectives.  We need to move on.  The church fathers cannot help us, Paul cannot help us, the pastorals can’t help us.  We have to come to grips with the limitations of our texts–that is all we can do.

*Just to be sure we’re clear, I’m not saying that because the Gospels cannot be used as evidence to define historical events, does not mean I’m a mythicist or that I am suggesting that such events couldn’t have happened or that Jesus never existed.

Thomas L. Thompson: Is This Not the Carpenter’s Son? A Reply to Bart Ehrman

Thomas Thompson has written a response to Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? over at Bible and Interpretation.  Below I have included three snippets:

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.


Ehrman pompously ignores my considerable analytical discussion, which was rooted in a wide-ranging, comparative literary classification and analysis of the Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern inscriptions. Apparently to him, the more than 40 years I have devoted to research in my study of the primary fields of Old Testament exegesis, ancient Near Eastern literature and ancient history—not least in regards to questions of historicity—leaves me unqualified and lacking the essential competence to address such questions because they also come to include a comparison of such an analysis with these same stereotypical literary tropes as they occur in the Gospels.


Ehrman has asserted that the present state of New Testament scholarship is such that an established scholar should present his Life of Jesus, without considering whether this figure, in fact, lived as a historical person. The assumptions implied reflect a serious problem regarding the historical quality of scholarship in biblical studies—not least that which presents itself as self-evidently historical-critical. I wrote my monograph of 2005 in an effort to explore the continuity of a limited number of themes which were rooted in ancient Near Eastern royal ideology—an issue which is not only marginally related to questions of historicity, but one which also has much to say about the perception of history and historical method among modern scholars. I am, accordingly, very pleased that Thomas Verenna and I can offer this response to Ehrman’s unconscionable attack on critical scholarship in so timely a manner. It is a small book, and its ambitions are few: hardly more than to point out that our warrant for assuming the existence of a historical Jesus has important limits. In the course of that statement, I hope that readers will find some very interesting, new avenues of research being explored.

(via)  You’ll want to read the whole thing.  For my more detailed refutation, see my article, published there as well, entitled ‘Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship‘.

A Book to Get: Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity

Blurb for the book:



Criteria of authenticity, whose roots go back to before the pioneering work of Albert Schweitzer, have become a unifying feature of the so-called Third Quest for the Historical Jesus, finding a prominent and common place in the research of otherwise differing scholars. More recently, however, scholars from different methodological frameworks have expressed discontent with this approach to the historical Jesus. In the past five years, these expressions of discontent have reached a fever pitch.

The internationally renowned authors of this book examine the nature of this new debate and present the findings in a cohesive way aimed directly at making the coalface of Historical Jesus research accessible to undergraduates and seminary students. The book’s larger ramifications as a thorough end to the Third Quest will provide a pressure valve for thousands of scholars who view historical Jesus studies as outmoded and misguided. This book has the potential to guide Jesus studies beyond the Third Quest and demand to be consulted by any scholar who discards, adopts, or adapts historical criteria.

This book looks absolutely amazing.  Mark Goodacre has a chapter in it that I am really excited about.  Here is the link to Amazon:

Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity: Chris Keith, Anthony La Donne: 9780567377234: Books.

Here is the ToC:

Foreword – Morna Hooke
Introduction – The Rise of the Quest for an Authentic Jesus: An Introduction to the Crumbling Foundations of Jesus Studies – Anthony Le Donne

Part One: Historical Methodology and the Quest for an Authentic Jesus

  • The Indebtedness of the Criteria Approach to Form Criticism and Recent Attempts to Rehabilitate the Search for an Authentic Jesus Chris Keith
  • The Criteria of Authenticity in Jesus Research and Historiographical Method Jens Schröter

Part Two: Specific Criteria in the Quest for an Authentic Jesus

  • Why the Criterion of Semitisms Cannot Deliver Authenticity Loren Stuckenbruck
  • The Criterion of Coherence: Its Development, Inevitability, and Historiographical Limitations Anthony Le Donne
  • Saving the Quest for Authenticity from the Criterion of Dissimilarity: History and Plausibility Dagmar Winter
  • The Embarrassing Truth about Jesus: The Demise of the Criterion of Embarrassment Rafael Rodriguez
  • Criticizing the Criterion of Multiple Attestation: The Historical Jesus and the Question of Sources Mark Goodacre

Part Three: Reflections on Moving Past Traditional Jesus Research

  • Why the Authentic Jesus is Useless for the Church Scot McKnight
  • It Don’t Come Easy: A History of Disillusionment Dale Allison
  • Conclusion – The Fall of the Quest for an Authentic Jesus: Concluding Remarks Chris Keith



Carrier on Ehrman’s Response to Criticisms

Carrier took a moment out of his conference schedule to type a response to Ehrman.  It is as efficient as his others, meaning that he thoroughly shows the hubris of Ehrman’s latest foray (his book and his response to critics).  And let us not beat around the bush here, there is either dishonesty at work or Ehrman just isn’t doing his due diligence.   Carrier starts off by stating what many of us have already picked up on (emphasis added):

Bart Ehrman has finally composed an extensive response to my critical review of his book. But before that came out, he composed two briefer responses, one to my review of his Huffington Post article and another to my subsequent review of his book. He also briefly punted to another blogger, R.J. Hoffman. In this post I’ll address those latter items. Next I’ll reply to the longer piece (I’ve nearly finished my reply to that, but as I’m now at the  Madison Freethought Festival with tons of amazing speakers and excellent liquor, I won’t be able to proof that and post until Sunday evening).

The strangest thing about those latter items is not the alarming-enough fact that they ignore nearly every substantive point in what they are responding to, and focus each on only a single issue, and that one of the least importance (the Hoffman piece likewise doesn’t address anything I actually said). That is strange. But stranger still is that they do not look entirely honest to me. But I’ll just present the evidence and you can decide.

First up is the bizarre deflection of the issues in Ehrman’s response to Carrier’s very real criticisms.  These criticisms focused on the false claims made by Ehrman throughout his recent publicity articles and his book, all of which are completely bizarre and look like the claims made by rank amateurs :

  • The incorrect attribution to Pliny’s letters
  • The false claim that a statue (Priapus Bronze) does not exist.
  • The curios claim that Pilate was not a procurator, but only a governor (He was in fact both.  In the past, I actually made this false claim–but this was before I became a student; we should not expect this from a veteran scholar).
  • The outstandingly false claim that “we simply don’t have birth notices, trial records, death certificates—or other kinds of records that one has today” (yes he said that!)
  • The claim that no Classicist argues that the record of Christians and Jesus in Tacitus is an interpolation (there are at least six that Carrier lists)
  • The claim that no other scholar has proposed a different period for the death of Jesus and the rise of Christianity
  • Ehrman’s apparent ignorance of the Innana death and resurrection story and that of Romulus’ death and resurrection story.
  • The very false claim that we have no evidence of baptism in any mystery religions
  • The claim that no Jews thought the messiah would die or suffer
  • The rather hyperbolic claims that Carrier is somehow unqualified–with his three graduate degrees in relevant fields–to speak on the New Testament and Jesus studies
  • The claim that “not even … the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate” is “mentioned in any Roman sources of his day.”
  • That we have sources dated to within a year or two of Jesus’ death

Those are the patently FALSE claims made by Ehrman.  This doesn’t account for all of his errors either, since there are plenty more (which I cover in my forthcoming paper due out next week, with any luck); it also doesn’t account for Ehrman’s many misleading statements or contradictory statements made throughout the book (where he says one thing at one point and then contradicts himself at a later point).

And to which argument in Carrier’s arsenal of criticisms does Ehrman choose to respond?  That’s right–the Priapus statue (which oddly Ehrman thinks is the strongest one, which is just silly).  He doesn’t address any of the other more relevant and important matters of oversight or misstatements.  You can read my reply to Ehrman’s response here.  Carrier writes the following (snippet):

In his second reply he addressed one single point in my review. And here I believe there is reason to suspect he is lying about the Priapus statue. In my review of his book I called him out for saying (certainly very clearly implying) that Murdock “made up” the statue at the Vatican that she presents a drawing of and says is a symbol of Peter. He clearly did not call the Vatican about it or research the claim at all. Because if he had, he would have said what any responsible scholar would have said, which is that yes, the statue she depicts is real and the drawing she provides is reasonably accurate, but her argument that it symbolizes Peter is not credible. It’s just a pagan statue of the god Priapus.

Now in his reply on this point, in “Acharya S, Richard Carrier, and a Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”),” he claims I misread him, that he never denied the statue existed nor implied that Murdock made it up. Now let’s look at what he actually wrote in the book. You be the judge:

[Acharya says] “‘Peter’ is not only ‘the rock’ but also ‘the cock’, or penis, as the word is used as slang to this day.” Here Acharya shows (her own?) hand drawing of a man with a rooster head but with a large erect penis instead of a nose, with this description: “bronze sculpture hidden in the Vatican treasure of the Cock, symbol of St. Peter” (295). There is no penis-nosed statue of Peter the cock in the Vatican or anywhere else except in books like this, which love to make things up.

That’s the sum total of what he says about this. It is quite evident to me that when he wrote this, he doubted the drawing came from any source, and believed (and here implies to the reader) that she just made it up. There is no such statue. That is what he is saying. But you can judge that for yourself. Certainly, the one thing this paragraph doesn’t say is that the statue she references does exist, is (or at one time was) at the Vatican, and looks essentially just as her drawing depicts it. It also does not say that she is merely wrong to interpret this statue as being of Peter. To the contrary, all it says is that there is no such statue, she made this up. Which is false. And betrays his failure to even check.

But he now claims he did check. Sort of–he says he saw her citations and assumed there were priapic statues; he did not actually say he checked her sources, or contacted the Vatican.

Indeed. Ehrman is basically saying “I was never wrong. I’m just such a phenomenally lousy writer that things I wrote appear to say what they don’t, and everyone who reads this book will often be misled in result.” Others have noted the problem entailed by his repeatedly careless and irresponsible wording of things, which can completely mislead lay readers of his book. Ophelia Benson (Butterflies & Wheels), for example, found many problems with the way Ehrman’s choice of words misleads, as well as his questionable logic (see: What Ehrman Actually Says, The Unseen, A Small Town Guy).

But I fear it may be worse than that. Because I don’t actually believe him when he says he didn’t mean to say the statue didn’t exist. I suspect that is a post-hoc rationalization that he cooked up in an attempt to save face, after his careless and irresponsible scholarship on this matter was exposed. I suspect this not only because his excuse is implausible on its face (read his original paragraph again, and ask yourself how likely it is that someone who wanted to say “the statue she depicts does exist, but it’s not a statue of Peter” would say instead what he did), and not only because he still doesn’t claim to have researched her sources or contacted the Vatican (in other words, to do what he should have done), but also because, as several people have since pointed out to me, he said in a podcast (before my review and before Murdock herself exposed him on this) that the statue did not in any sense exist.

That’s right. On Homebrewed Christianity, April 3 (2012), “Bart Ehrman on Jesus’ Existence, Apocalypticism & Holy Week,” timestamp 20:30-21:10: at this point in that podcast, Ehrman says Acharya talks about Peter the cock and shows a drawing of a statue with a penis for a nose and claims this is in the Vatican museum, at which Ehrman declares, with laughter, “It’s just made up! There is no such s[tatue]… It’s just completely made up” (emphasis mine). In context it is certainly clear he is saying there is no such statue of any kind, that her drawing is not of any actual object. (Note that I put the word “statue” in partial brackets because he speaks so quickly he didn’t complete the word but started saying what is obviously the word “statue”; he doesn’t pause to correct himself, though, he just quickly segues to the next phrase in animated conversation.)

Now, I must leave it to you to decide what’s going on here. From both his own wording in the book and this podcast, it certainly seems that Ehrman had no idea the statue actually existed, until Murdock and I hammered him on it. Notably, I had emailed him about this weeks before my review, asking what his response to Murdock was, because I was concerned it didn’t look good. I had not yet read his book, so I didn’t know the whole thing would be a travesty of these kinds of errors. Ehrman never answered me (even though he has in the past). Only after my review did he come out with the explanation that he meant to say the statue existed but wasn’t connected to Peter. And on that point I suspect he is lying.

You’ll have to go to his site to read the rest of his response on this.  In fact go read the whole thing.


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