Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Maybe the Last Post About Jesus For a Little While

I'm concerned that I may have been boring the Hell out of regular readers lately, hammering away at one particular topic. So one more remark for the time being, with the hope that it doesn't seem I'm merely repeating what I've already said repeatedly lately:

It seems to me that Biblical scholars usually assume that Jesus existed, and then interpret everything they study in that light. As opposed to considering whether or not Jesus existed in the light of everything they study. And no, I don't have a PhD in New Testament studies or in anything else. But I'd like to think that even if I were the chairperson of a prestigious faculty of Biblical studies, I would still avoid the pitfall of arguing from authority -- or credentialism, a cool word I learned today. People insisting that it's certain that Jesus existed keep referring to their own or other people's credentials, instead of discussing the question. (And then the experts wonder why so many people aren't inclined to listen to them.) An opinion makes the same amount of sense no matter how many or how few people hold it, or how many or how few credentials those people hold. 300 years ago the scholarly consensus in Western civilization was that anyone who professed atheism should be put to death for it. A consensus, in and of itself, is no reason to agree with the consensus. I'm sure all of you can think of many examples where great majorities of this group or that all agreed and all were horribly wrong.

What is particularly disturbing in this case is that the professors who seem so closed-minded to me on this one question seem so reasonable and intellectually curious in general. It's not as if it were just more of the same from some demogogues who spew nonsense nonstop. No, these are very bright and highly-educated, highly-civilized people. Worse, they're people who are experts in some areas of study which particularly fascinate me. People I could talk to at great length about old manuscripts and debate textual variants.People who are fascinated by things I love, too, although they would put 99.99% of you swiftly to sleep. Lately I've felt like Dustin Hoffman near the end of Lenny,pleading with a judge to listen to the points he's trying to make, pleading to be heard and not treated like a random raving fool. Wondering whether anyone in the room even cares about what he's struggling so mightily to express as clearly as he can.

Well, that's a little over-dramatic on my part: I'm not that isolated and helpless, I'm not being hauled off to jail for the umpteenth time for saying what I feel is important.

(It would be nice, though, if some highly-respected professor or fourteen would join this chorus. All we're asking for is the beginning of a discussion.)


  1. After weeks of being unable to post comments on the blogs, I looked through the "Known issues" for some clues. There was one that said IE8 users were reporting problems with the imbedded editor. So I'm using Firefox today (which they say is not supported!).

    Maybe this will help others.

  2. Since my philosophy of history is not particularly broad, let me ask what are the specific requirements for a personage to be recognized as "historical"? Except for the high-born or otherwise famous figures of past civilizations, there is very little recorded about individuals. And yet, many are accepted as historical despite a dearth of documentation, merely on reports of actions or memories from others.

  3. Thanks for the info about issues with IE. I had no idea there were any problems.

    As for your question, there are no specific criteria for determining whether a person is historical. Some people think Jesus really existed, some think he didn't, some, like me, aren't sure. And we argue about it a lot. One of the reasons I'm not sure Jesus existed is because of the quality of the Gospel stories. They remind me of myths like the Iliad and the Odyssey more than ancient historical books like those written by Herodotus or Livy.

    There's a lot of interesting stuff about the question of whether or not Jesus existed on Richard Carrier's blog, and in the numerous comments on that blog, and in books by him and Robert M. Price and Earl Doherty, to name a few. Carrier recommends some books on the subject here: Carrier is a real expert on the subject, I'm not.

    1. Thanks for the links, Steven. Although I'm not inclined to join the debate for now, I may come back to it later. I stopped trying to pin down the historical Jesus, the melieu of Roman dominance is interesting - it prompted lots of various reactions, and Christianity was there, fighting against the hegemony and brutality. ANd eventually, Christianity became the dominant influence - quite a feat.