Books to Review

And I have a plethora.

Seriously, though, I do have a lot of them.  I am in the midst of reviewing some I have already started on this blog (but haven’t found the time to finish) and I have a handful I just received that I plan to review this month.  Here is the stack I have waiting for me:

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Since I am anxious to start the review process, let me give some first impressions of these books (in the order they are listed in the picture):

Thomas Brodie’s new memoir is interesting.  My first impressions were somewhat skewed in two directions prior to even seeing the book: (1) Richard Carrier’s not-so-positive review and (2) my great respect and admiration for Brodie’s work over the past few decades.   But I’m not at all impressed with Carrier’s review as I feel it takes the genre of Brodie’s work for granted.  Brodie is not writing a ‘mythicist book’, but a memoir about his life, his discoveries, the directions he has taken with his scholarship, and the direction that his scholarship has taken him.  As someone who has read (and enjoyed) the memoir of another Irish Catholic New Testament scholar (John Dominic Crossan’s, A Long Way from Tipperary), Brodie’s book fits perfectly within such a category and shines, in my humble opinion.  The first few chapters I’ve read demonstrate his struggle with the question of Jesus’ historicity through his time in the ministry, living in different parts of the world trying to teach the New Testament critically as a devout Catholic theologian and as a trained historian.  In many ways I’m sympathetic to Brodie’s positions–not because I think Jesus is a fiction, but because I find his reasoning to be justified within the framework of his career as an expert in literary criticism, as someone tested within the field of New Testament.  He could not have reached this conclusion lightly and therefore I am sympathetic, even if I disagree with the strength of his premise (i.e., Jesus never existed).  But I still have more to read and so I will continue to review it as I can find the time.

Mark Goodacre’s work is always a pleasure to read.  It always engages you critically and tends to have a Cartesian quality that challenges those long-held presuppositions of a text about which you never knew you had.  When I first read his Case Against Q, I was instantly persuaded (though, admittedly, I did already have my doubts about Q for some time).  With the Gospel of Thomas, I likewise started from a position of doubt; that is to say, I suspected that the author of Thomas had a familiarity with the synoptics.  Mark Goodacre’s new book does not strengthen my suspicions as much as it forces me to interact intellectually with them.  Thomas and the Gospels takes all my inclinations and lays them out for me to see, with a range of textual criticism and analysis for which Mark Goodacre is known.  He presents each argument, thus far that I’ve seen, with the intent of demonstrating the familiarity he argues for, rather than simply restating his premise over and over as I’ve seen in so many other studies on Thomas.  I anticipate that I will continue to enjoy this volume and the functionally-useful arguments that Goodacre gives throughout.  I can’t wait to continue reading this one!

Candida Moss’s new book The Myth of Persecution looks extremely promising, conceptually.  I hesitate to speak more about it yet because I am participating in a blog tour for this book in March and would much rather share my thoughts on it then.  However, I will say this is on a subject I have blogged about recently.

cpcisChanging Perspectives is a relatively new project under the Copenhagen International Seminar Series.  The goal of this project is to “publish volumes of collected essays and research articles, which have had a significant effect on the methods and scholarly research of its author as well as on the field of Old Testament and its related disciplines in the course of the last 50 years.”  I have received two volumes of the four to review: Thomas Thompson’s volume and Niels Peter Lemche’s volume.  I am confident in saying that both of these volumes are must-owns for anyone who wants to do serious scholarship in the field of Old Testament and literary criticism.  They are exceptionally important.  Some of the articles are known to me through my years of dialog with Thomas, who has on occasion directed me to them prior to the publication of this book.  However, some are new to me and many of which I would have to order through inter-library loan or pay to get my hands on them.  Thankfully, having them in this volume solves all of that as I can easily reference a particular argument, especially over stages of its development, which is very helpful.  I also learned something about NP Lemche that I had not known: he has a history of being a non-minimalist!  Who knew?!  I didn’t.  But now I do!  Thus we see the evolution of his critical mind in action from the 1980’s (where we see a more conservative Lemche) into the present (into the minimalist we all–well, most of us anyway; the smart ones–love).  I cannot recommend these two volumes enough and would quite enjoy reviewing Philip Davies’ forthcoming volume as well as John Van Seters’ volume, so long as Acumen is feeling generous enough.

Paul and Jesus by James Tabor looks to be a thought-provoking book.  I should preface this short introductory review with the fact that James and I do not always see eye-to-eye, but I like him as a person and find him to be a very serious scholar.  And I see both of those attributes reflected in his new tome on Paul.  I also see some not-so-distant (yet still faded) reflections of Hyam Maccoby and Gerd Lüdemann, along with Bultmann in this hypothesis.  The idea that Paul is really the man behind the movement of Christianity, rather than Jesus, is not new in and of itself.  In fact I would agree with this argument, as it seems that Paul’s theological foundation has played a pivotal role in the early Christian movement.  I won’t say much more until I’ve completed the book, but I do believe this title is worth every New Testament scholar’s consideration, as Tabor presents some challenging arguments that must be dealt with in new ways (as the old ways simply do not cut it, as Tabor demonstrates), even if his premise does not convince a whole lot of people (though particularly those in the more conservative wings of scholarship will find his reconstruction of the early Christian movement unpalatable).

Finally, we come to it at last.  But what exactly it is… Well, I am just not sure.   I get the feeling that Douglas Templeton is trying to do something very, shall we say, flamboyant with the literature, make it burst forth from the pages as would a description of a novel as explained by Derrida.  I’m just not sure what is going on and the volume comes across as very pop-culture-meets-anecdotal-meetup-group-esque.  I want to like this book, but it is so weird I just can’t begin to get attached to the discussion (that is, when I find it).  Honestly, I don’t think I have a firm enough grasp on the functionality of the book, if there is such a thing, to appreciate it.  Someone, I’m sure, will love it.  That certain ‘someone’ just isn’t me.

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Joel on McGrath and Mythicism

Joel writes the following:

Tom didn’t like that. He suggests that because McGrath doesn’t believe Thompson and then sees that Thompson is indeed a mythicist that somehow McGrath has failed to read his book.

Here is my problem, however.  The question is about respect for ones own words. If you aren’t reading the arguments in the book, and you fabricate a strawman to attack instead of the actual arguments, you fail as a researcher, as a scholar. I’m not saying James is not competent or that he is in someway a bad scholar (quite the opposite is true), but when you make a claim like ‘what does this point have to do with historicity?’ when clearly Thompson is asking THAT SAME QUESTION about Ehrman’s misreading of his work, then there is a problem there.  Joel continues:

I’m trying not to comment too much on Thompson’s article, finding some personal flaws in it, but it is rather clear that Thompson is a mythicist.

Whether or not Thompson considers himself a mythicist is irrelevant to what McGrath is doing or what I am arguing.  If Thompson writes a book against Q, is his book then a ‘mythicist book’? Or is it a book against the case for Q?  That is the point here. James seems to want to create this false umbrella over Thompson’s The Messiah Myth and label it mythicism. THAT is wrong. That is an example of someone not being true to the sources, not being accurate in their presentation of the data. And if someone just parrots the same mistake, they’re guilty of it too. It has nothing to do about disagreements; it is about being competent as a scholar. Let’s just be clear on that.

Finally, Joel makes this statement:

That’s the problem, ain’t it. Mythicism is being redefined merely as a healthy dose of doubt. I would say that if we are redefining the word, then we should see that it is a healthy dose of the loss of reality…

But this isn’t the case.  I’m not sure Thompson has ever really defined himself as a mythicist.  If anything, it may be that others have hoisted that label upon him, much in the way that others hoisted the label ‘minimalist’ on him decades ago, and he just sort of adopted it.  And that is fine.  All derogatory phrases are, at some point or another, redefined because there is the err of stereotyping and labeling people, while simultaneously fabricating a mythos about them.  And that seems to be what is happening here.

Thompson is no fringe scholar, but it pains me to see James McGrath treating him as if he were, while at the same time ignoring the rather glaring and irresponsible problems with Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist.  In my opinion, Thompson’s work has been far superior to anything that Ehrman has written.  Some may disagree, but frankly, I just don’t care enough to debate it.

People are so quick to jump on the ‘mythicist’ bandwagon anymore, and that is problematic both because it perpetuates stereotypes and stalls any sort of real conversation about the issues–and I’m not talking about historicity, here.  I’m talking about the issues.  Like the value of literary criticism over historical criticism, or the value of the arguments against Q, or arguments over genre criticism, or the function of syncretism, because people are so quick to lump them into categories like ‘parallelomania’ or ‘mythicism’.

And that is what is happening here.  Thompson is explaining, quite directly, that his book The Messiah Myth had nothing to do with the question of historicity.  Even his chapter in our collection of essays doesn’t address the question–it doesn’t bother with it.  Because Thompson finds no use for it.  And neither do I.  And whenever someone talks about it as if it were a book on mythicism, or about historicity, it only proves to me, above all else, that they haven’t read it.  It is as simple as that.

Another Example of Misreading: James McGrath on Thomas Thompson

James McGrath writes:

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

via An Odd Diatribe from Thomas L. Thompson.

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

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

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

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‘.

Creating Biblical Figures – Thomas L. Thompson

This is an old article from Thomas, but quite interesting and worth the read.  Here is a snippet:

Job, in his utopian, king-like role in Job 29, provides me with a useful paradigm for the biblical figure of the messiah (Th.L. Thompson and H.Tronier, Frelsens Biografisering, Museum Tusculanum: Copenhagne, 2004, 115-134) and an internal coherence to my new book, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David (Basic Books: New York, 2005), which provides the theme of a seminar this coming semester. The Messiah Myth takes up issues often ignored or lost sight of when biblical narrative is overshadowed by modern questions about the historical origins of Judaism and Christianity. It addresses what origin stories tell us through their stories of beginnings and who the figures of David and Jesus are if they are not to express the founding of Israel’s kingship and Christianity’s origins?

via Creating Biblical Figures – By Thomas L. Thompson.

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