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.

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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.

And

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.

And:

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: Amazon.com: 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.

Richard Carrier, Bayes’s Theorem, and Historical Jesus Criteria

Richard Carrier has a new article posted at the online journal Bible and Interpretation entitled Bayes’ Theorem and the Modern Historian: Proving History Requires Improving Methods.  Here is the blurb:

Several examinations of the methodologies employed in the study of Jesus have consistently found those methods invalid or defective. Which fact has resulted in the proliferation of endless different conclusions as to the nature of the historical Jesus and the origins of Christianity. Attention to the logical validity of the methods we employ is essential to repairing this problem. One particular theory of human reasoning can lead the way: widely known as Bayes’ Theorem, historians would benefit tremendously from understanding it and learning how to apply it in their arguments and research.

Bayes.pdf (application/pdf Object).

You should definitely go read it!  I especially like this part:

The latest in this series of studies is a new volume to be published this year, edited by Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne, titled Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T & T Clark, 2012), and featuring such luminaries as Mark Goodacre and Morna Hooker, all coming to the same conclusion: the method of criteria is simply not logically viable. This leaves the field of Jesus studies with no valid method, and puts into question all consensus positions in the field, insofar as they have all been based, to one extent or another, on these logically invalid methods.
The consequence of this has been more than evident: every scholar using these methods “discovers” a completely different historical Jesus. As Dale Allison concludes, “these criteria have not led to any uniformity of result, or any more uniformity than would have been the case had we never heard of them,” hence “the criteria themselves are seriously defective” and “cannot do what is claimed for them.”[8] As Helmut Koester concluded after his own survey, “The vast variety of interpretations of the historical Jesus that the current quest has proposed is bewildering.”[9] James Charlesworth concurs, concluding that “what had been perceived to be a developing consensus in the 1980s has collapsed into a chaos of opinions.”[10] Several others have come to the same conclusion, demonstrating, with extensive citation of examples, the whole confusion of contradictory opinions that has resulted from applying these methods: Thomas Thompson,[11] Thomas Verenna,[12] James Crossley,[13] Mark Strauss,[14] John Poirier,[15] Mark Allen Powell,[16] and John Dominic Crossan,[17] just to name a few.

When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ.[18] This has to end.

Indeed. Do read on.  Exceptional article.

Of Scholars and Things: Bart Ehrman, Pride, and Credibility

καλεῖ δ᾽ ἀκούοντας οὐδὲν ἐν μέσᾳ 
δυσπαλεῖ τε δίνᾳ: 
γελᾷ δὲ δαίμων ἐπ᾽ ἀνδρὶ θερμῷ, 
τὸν οὔποτ᾽ αὐχοῦντ᾽ ἰδὼν ἀμαχάνοις 
δύαις λαπαδνὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπερθέοντ᾽ ἄκραν: 
δι᾽ αἰῶνος δὲ τὸν πρὶν ὄλβον 
ἕρματι προσβαλὼν δίκας 
ὤλετ᾽ ἄκλαυτος, αἶστος. 
(Aeschylus, Eumenides 558-565)

In Ehrman’s recent response to Carrier’s criticisms of his book, Ehrman writes the following (rather shocking) statement:

As many readers know, Richard Carrier has written a hard-hitting, one might even say vicious, response to Did Jesus Exist.  I said nothing nasty about Carrier in my book – just the contrary, I indicated that he was a smart fellow with whom I disagree on fundamental issues, including some for which he really does not seem to know what he is talking about.  But I never attacked him personally.  He on the other hand, appears to be showing his true colors.

And:

So what is the point?  Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am.  This is a repeated theme throughout his scathing critique.   I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.

After reading the response I mainly wanted to focus on his excuses for why such glaring and egregious problems existed in his book.  But now, after I have had a day to reflect, I wanted to come back to this because, frankly, Ehrman seems to have completely forgotten what he wrote in his book and in various articles about his book over the past few months.

First, I want to stress that Ehrman is a professional scholar–he is a very well established academic with many, many publications.  Not only has he published dozens of books but he has two Loeb texts (on the Apostolic fathers, quite the accomplishment) and many smaller articles in journals and such that should hammer home his credentials.  He is an excellent textual critic and knows a lot about the ins and outs of manuscripts, of scribal practices, of copyist errors.  Indeed his best work is, in my opinion, on these very subjects.  He studied under the late Bruce Metzger and co-authored with him on occasion and that only goes more to his credit.

I say this because there is a great difference between his extremely well-researched book Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (HarperCollins, 2011) and his recent book Did Jesus Exist.  This is primarily due to the subject matter of his work.  Of the former, Ehrman’s expertise, there is no doubt-it is a superb book.  Of the latter, well, clearly there is a disconnect somewhere between what Ehrman knows and what he doesn’t.  And that is really what surprised me so much about his recent articles hyping his book.

He spends a lot of time challenging the credentials of Carrier (who has three graduate degrees in Christian origins, Classics, and ancient science), Price (who has relevant degrees in NT), and Thompson (who has worked in the field of Biblical Studies for over four decades).  In his book, in fact, he writes only that Carrier has a PhD ‘in classics’ (which is simply inaccurate–he holds three graduate degrees: an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D.) and in his article he hints that even with degrees, mythicists like Carrier are unhireable.

In fact Ehrman consistently drives home the point that mythicists–even credentialed ones–are simply weaker historians, like a creation scientist is not really a scientist, or like the way a chiropractor isn’t really a doctor.  That is his whole point; and throughout his book he strives to prove that (a) mythicists are wrong because (b) they aren’t doing history correctly.  So when Ehrman writes, “Carrier appears to want to show that he is very much a better historian than I am…. I, frankly, did not realize that this was supposed to be a contest between the two of us, and am not interested in the question of who wins.” those of us who have been paying attention cannot help but fall out of our chairs.  Did he really just say that?

His whole point is about proving he is a better historian–because he is a historicist and not a mythicist–than Carrier, Price, Thompson, etc….  That is the point!  His whole book, Did Jesus Exist, is nothing if not one giant attempt to say ‘This is what real historians do; this is why real historians accept a historical Jesus.’

So when Carrier (and I–forthcoming academic article due out on the subject in early May) show that Ehrman has utterly and completely failed at his task, that he has been exposed as unreliable in this particular area (i.e., historical Jesus studies–not his work in textual criticism which is still top notch), what is it that he does?  He seems to forget precisely what it was his goals were in writing the book to begin with.  And that is seriously troubling.

Indeed, Carrier has shown his true colors–his true colors are that of an actual credible scholar who takes pride in their research and tries, with due diligence, to publish work that is solid and sound and reasonable.  And he is not afraid to confront scholarship that is anything but sound and reasonable.  And while that may not win him friends, it is an admirable quality as so many scholars tend to handle these matters with kid gloves when, in fact, sometimes bad arguments just need a swift kick in the pants.  It isn’t my style, but it certainly is Carrier’s.  That is okay with me.

But more than this, Carrier has undermined Ehrman’s point that all mythicists are unreliable.  Certainly MANY mythicists are unreliable (Acharya S, Freke and Gandy, Atwill, etc…) but not all mythicists are in the same boat (just as not all historical Jesus scholars are the same).  And this is a point Ehrman fails to make and as a result he has suffered a blow.  For all his boasting and credential-toting he has not shown himself to be as competent a scholar in the area of historical Jesus studies as Carrier, a mythicist, has.

Still, and I want to be clear, I don’t think this means that Ehrman is an unreliable scholar.  To the contrary, he is quite reliable and should be respected, even though he has not produced a very well argued book on this particular subject.  And if I may use his own words, “[h]e is one smart fellow.  But I’m afraid he falls down on this one.  Even smart people make mistakes.” (p. 167)

Indeed.

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