Joe Hoffmann on Romney, Mormonism, and Lying for the Lord

I don’t always agree with Joe Hoffmann, but when I do, you can be sure it is about something he says epically.  Here is a snippet:

No one expected the enemy to take this form. At one point, in reply to Romney’s third asseveration that he was not advocatng a three trillion dollar tax break and that the President’s statements were “simply inaccurate,” (“I don’t know where you’re getting this stuff”) Mr Obama simply looked disappointed and mildly shook his graying head. How many at that point wanted someone to say pointedly “I’m getting it from you, Governor–it’s what you’ve been saying for eighteen months.” Except we all know what Romney would have said, in that Jon Lovitz/Tommy Flannagan style he had adopted: “No I didn’t. You’re making that up, too.” Post-truthfulness, to be effective, must be pathologically coherent.

via Lying for the Lord: The Mormon Missionary Rides High « The New Oxonian.

Visit his blog and read the rest.

Craig A. Evans – Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark

Craig A. Evans has an interesting, if not thought-provoking, discussion of Secret Mark that is worth reading.  I am not sure where I stand on this debate.  I know James Tabor and Joe Hoffmann both have different opinions about Smith, and they would know better than I would (and probably better than Evans, since they were students).  But I can say I don’t accept Secret Mark as anything more than a fabrication (possibly ancient, possibly modern); I don’t believe this was part of the Markan tradition.   Either way, I suspect there will be another article soon enough arguing the opposite.  here is a snippet:

At the 1960 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Morton Smith (1915–91) announced that while examining a number of old books and papers in the Mar Saba Monastery in the Judean Desert in 1958 he discovered three pages of hand-written Greek in the back of a 1646 edition of the letters of Ignatius. These pages purport to be a lost letter of Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), written to one Theodore, in which a longer, mystical (or “secret”) Gospel of Mark is discussed. Two passages of this work are quoted, one of which describes Jesus teaching a young man, wearing a linen sheet over his “naked” body, the “mystery of the kingdom of God.” In 1973, Smith published his find, now known as the “Secret Gospel of Mark,” in a lengthy, learned volume (Harvard University Press) and in a briefer, popular version (Harper). Although a number of scholars were willing to accept the find as authentic, or at least were willing to accept Smith’s account, a number of other scholars suspected the find was a hoax and that perhaps Smith himself was the hoaxer. The matter continues to be debated.

About half of the participants view Smith’s find with suspicion, if not as an outright hoax. These include Chilton, Jeffery, Piovanelli, and me. The other half of the participants, including the hosts, remain convinced that Smith told the truth. (The authenticity of the find itself, of course, is another matter.) On his blog, Tony has chronicled his thoughts, explaining why after hearing the papers and the discussion he still thinks Smith indeed made the discovery and that Smith was not involved in any way in a hoax.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark.


Is Mythicism Close to its End?

Many readers now are quite aware that I am no longer a ‘mythicist’ so I am not against James’ assertion that it is dying.  But I’d like to state quite plainly that the lack of historical veracity for a figure of Jesus is still a problem that has yet to be adequately addressed by scholars.  James might well be a part of the “mainstream academic fold” that ignores the question, accepting it based on old, dated methods but that doesn’t mean the question has gone away.  As someone who is agnostic about the question of historicity, I believe that the question cannot be put to rest under scholars directly (as opposed to indirectly, so common in studies of the historical figure of Jesus) deal with the questions academically.  This is what Carrier and I both hope to accomplish.

In other words, unlike those Zeitgeist mythicists, so dogmatic in their claims and parallelisms, historical Jesus agnostics (as I would label myself) are more concerned with coming to an answer using valid, critical methods.  Carrier’s two volume work will address problems with current methodology in historical Jesus scholarship–something desperately needed.  But his work also proposes a new method, utilizing mathematics.  I don’t think its fair that James dismisses his methods out of hand, as something inappropriate for historical reconstruction, especially since he doesn’t seem to fully grasp it or understand how to use it.   And I don’t think Hoffmann’s dismissal of it as irrelevant is useful either, since he first championed his methods and now rebukes them (due to his personal issues with Carrier or because of other issues, I cannot say).  And what I know of Carrier’s method actually takes into account the current flaws in historical Jesus methods and does an amazing job correcting them precisely by checking all assertive (i.e., overstatements, hyperbole, etc…)  claims that fail to support the data in an honest way.

In my volume, ed. with Thomas Thompson, the New Testament community is asked to directly address its own questions regarding historicity.  It is not a book for mythicists, nor is it a mythicist book.  It is a book which reopens the question of historicity back up for academia and, in a large way, readdresses the subject in a minimalist way.  Are we actually asking appropriate questions when we ask them about a historical figure?  Can that figure be recovered?  Would it matter if he or she were?  Are we failing to read the books of the New Testament the way they were meant to be read if we read them in search of historicity?   And so forth.  The book takes a stance, neither for or against historicity, but seeks only to ask scholars to take the time needed to validate their own presuppositions with the data.  And if it cannot be done, I would ask that scholars recognize the validity of an agnostic position.


Lead Codices Updates from Margaret Barker and Philip Davies

Some new emails have come in and I’d like to share them with everyone.  Margaret Barker wrote me this morning with some additional clarification to her previous email which I will post here in its entirety.  I do not believe she has been made aware of the email discussed over at Daniel McClellan’s blog along with the bronze vs. lead plates which look identical, so I sent her a followup with some discussions and links and look forward to hearing back from her.  Here is her email:

I have just read someone quoting yr blog, and what comes over is not what I intended. This was my fault for being so brief.

No known Xn iconography from the first generation is a fact, but there are verbal images which give a good idea what any Xn iconography wd have been.   There is plenty in the lead codices that corresponds to the verbal imagery of the first Christians: they are sealed books for a start, the overall theme of Revelation; there are palm branches; seven branched lamps; patterns of eight pointed ‘stars’  or similar;  and other images that cannot be identified with certainty.   I will not add to the current speculation.

Sorry about this


I believe her last line is most relevant, of course.  I think we all need to be watchful of such things.  I think we need to also be careful that we don’t rush to any hasty conclusions about them (not the least of which because they appear to be fakes after all); especially which where the symbols and imagery are concerned.  Joe Hoffmann remarked in an email:

I fail to see how the iconography will be dispositive for an early date since these would then need to be the earliest known, sine qua non, examples of the images.  So, Huh?  Everyone backing away from preliminary hasty judgements does not bode well for the profession!

Mark Goodacre also brings news from Philip Davies.  Mark left a comment on my blog earlier this morning with the following important information:

I mentioned the Thonemann analysis to Philip Davies over on the Biblical-Studies list and he replied, “Many thanks – I had tried to read ‘Alexander’ but was frustrated by the confusion of letters. This makes very good sense. What is disturbing is that I was not told of this deciphering. But it adds to some evidence I am collating that some at least of these are pretty modern, after all.”

The Jesus Project: Offering Another Perspective on the Chilton-Hoffmann-Crossley Exchange

By Thomas Verenna

James Crossley recently commented on the exchange between Bruce Chilton and R. Joseph Hoffmann. I would like to weigh in with my own opinions on this recent exchange. I can only hope that my suggestions will prove useful to the Project and continue to generate the sort of dialog we have seen so far in the community. Although I respect James and Bruce a great deal, I feel some of their advice may be misplaced when one considers the goals of the Jesus Project as a whole. Overall I agree with where they feel the Jesus Project’s focus needs to be. This is a gem from James’ article which I feel was overlooked by the Jesus Seminar and should not be underestimated in the Jesus Project’s investigations:

There is enough work on social history and social anthropology and enough empirical data collected and analyzed to exploit these issues. Areas ripe for exploitation might include: social networks, ethnic interaction, and the origins of gentile inclusion; class-conflicts and the emergence of a new religion; universal monotheism, developments in communication, and the origins of the deification of Jesus; and so on. In each case, the influence of Jesus the individual could be tested.

It is unfortunate that he employed these suggestions in such a limited and narrowed manner (applying these issues specifically to “the influence of Jesus the individual”). They can and should be expanded upon (instead of the “individual Jesus” which implies historicity, for example, these articles should be tested against the character or figure of Jesus, the authors intent, matters of intertextuality, literary composition, and the development of textual-tradition in the Jewish communities and later Christian communities throughout the ANE). I agree with James that these “ripe issues” are often overlooked or misrepresented by historical Jesus scholars. With the exception of a few scholars off the top of my head (Crossan and Mack most prevalent in my mind, but there are perhaps others as well), the Jesus Seminar et al seems to ignore the lack of orthodoxy in Judaism in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, instead opting for the dated perspective that Jews had some sort of unified interpretation of who and what the Messiah would be (and ignore the conclusions of the Princeton Symposium on Judaism and Christian Origins in 1987 onward). The focus of too many studies rest entirely on Jesus’ sayings and deeds, as James rightly points out (but ironically, he is guilty of in his own study when he compares sayings and deeds to Talmudic sayings and deeds). But while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is done in an often backwards manner (the method of voting comes to mind, used by the Jesus Seminar; thankfully voting will not be used by the JP) or where authorial intent is often ignored or taken for granted–sometimes to ridiculous proportions (like N.T. Wright’s perspective that the author of Matthew 27:52 documented honestly that the saints really did rise from the dead and walked around Jerusalem).

I would like to see some of the project dedicated to textual structure, narrative creation, model use, eponymic character creation (often indicated by how their names correspond with their actions in the narrative), and to some extent, liturgy (in the sense that we must challenge long-held presuppositions about Paul’s letters being read aloud to congregations of Christians; likewise the Gospels) and the development of “Christian” as a designation (and what came before); these should be explored without the shackles of commonly-held presumptions. In other words, I feel some portion of the project should ask why the Gospel/Acts/epistle/pastoral authors wrote and who they wrote to. These questions cannot be answered as they have been previously (as Philip Davies would put it, “because it happened” is not an adequate reason).

Other questions should also be considered. Could those who read them be considered “full-knowing readers”? Did the authors intend to have their works read as history or something else? Can it be decided what genres we’re dealing with? It cannot be supposed that the Gospels are Graeco-Roman biographies, as Charles Talbert had suggested, as this has been challenged more recently by several scholars like Mary Ann Tolbert, Michael E. Vines, Thomas L. Thompson and Dennis R. MacDonald (the latter two being a part of the JP). Answering the question of genre (as well as the other questions proposed above) will not only provide for the project a new direction by which to judge the New Testament literature, but will answer some of those “big, big questions” that James talked about. If it is determined that the genre of the Gospel of Mark is Jewish Novel (and not Jewish/Graeco-Roman biography or history) that changes the direction of several perspectives, does it not? As Kurt Noll has discussed in a recent SBL article (Why Does the New Testament Exist?, SBL 2008), textual interpretation can change as rapidly as cultural memes, especially in antiquity. Where a letter may have been written with one purpose in mind, that would not change others from using the letter for another purpose entirely. So it may be that Mark’s intention was lost on the second wave of readers or used in a manner he never intended, much like how Paul’s letters were thrown about and used by different sects of Christianity in the second-third centuries CE. The answer cannot be known without first asking, then investigating the questions.

I also fear that Bruce and James are a bit biased in their desires to incorporate Aramaic scholars into the Project. After all, if you start with the assumption that “Jesus spoke Aramaic” (as both Bruce and James do), there would have to be some urgency to incorporate scholars into the project who can authoritatively speak about it, right? While Aramaic scholars should be included for other reasons, and while I feel they are useful for socio-cultural investigations, what should be apparent to everyone is that the statement “Jesus spoke Aramaic” is precisely what has yet been investigated and is not something we should start off assuming. If it can be shown that Jesus existed historically, in some form, using the specific methodologies this Project is working towards perfecting now, the question of “which language Jesus spoke” will have to be asked. But, it will have to be asked while investigating the socio-cultural world of that particular figure of Jesus. It can not even be suggested that Jesus was a Galilean (another oft-to assumed “fact”) and therefore spoke Aramaic, as this subject has also not been investigated thoroughly (it has only been assumed based on readings from the Gospels alone)–nor can it be investigated until the question of historicity has been established in any detail. Until then, all scholars on the project should be open to the possibility that the answer to the question “did Jesus exist” might make their questions obsolete (including those of mythicists–that statement was not just directed towards historicists). Remembering that fact (i.e. every perspective we now have might be turned on its head) will hopefully generate more interesting, thought-provoking questions that will likewise bring about more thought-provoking studies and one-on-one interactions between participants.

Joe’s More “Gloves-off” Approach to Jesus Project Criticisms

All interested parties should read this article.  It’s the revised version of the article published below.

%d bloggers like this: