Wednesday, July 18, 2012

They Come in Huge Throngs to Tell Us That They Don't Care

Another day, another flat assertion in Huffington Post that Jesus existed, that the question is settled except among kooks. Still, Kudos to Craig S Keener for giving a more straightforward title to his article than Bart Ehrman gave to his latest book.

Another huge load of readers' comments saying flatly that Jesus' existence or non-existence is completely unimportant, what matters are all the silly theological questions.

The supposed unimportance of whether or not Jesus existed is important enough to an amazing number of people for them to take the time to speak up about it.

Did they happen to notice that the article by Dr Keener also did not address anything supernatural? Although he sometimes writes on theological subjects, this particular article has a strictly historical orientation.

I started to participate in debates over whether or not Jesus existed only a couple of years ago. I had been raised in a Protestantism I found rather oppressive, became an atheist in the 1970's, before I was full grown, and although since then I have studied history with great interest, I tended to avoid Jesus as an historical subject.

That changed a couple of years ago, in part because so many people discuss whether or not Jesus existed. Discussions on this topic can be struck up all over the place. All in all I'd rather talk about Livy or Charlemagne, but it's much harder for an autodidact to find a group of people interested in one of them.

On the other hand, when there is a discussion going on started by an article written by an academic who studies Livy or Charlemagne or theoretical math or metallurgy or the history of soccer or horology, it's relatively rare for someone to pop in just to say, "I find the subject of your work to be unimportant." Can you see how that would be kind of jarring to people who just wanted to talk about Livy, because they're fascinated by Livy? (He was an ancient Roman historian, in case anyone's wondering who I'm talking about.)

For me, aside from a purely historical perspective -- as an atheist I do not actually participate in theological discussions so much as sneer at them and study them from an anthropological perspective and wonder how much longer people will continue to go for such deadly-dull hooey -- the question of the historicity of Jesus is very interesting to me because of what it reveals about Christianity's continuing influence over academic fields which supposedly these days are secularized and objective and dedicated to free and open inquiry. Because it seems to me that the view which continues to dominate -- well represented by Keener above -- is, "It's settled, even if you're completely secular it's settled, Jesus existed, period, move along folks, nothing to see here..." The dominant position is still an unwillingness to actually debate the question. If there were such willingness, then such an article as Keener's would address the positions of people like Robert Price and Thomas Thompson and the other actual bona fide, non-kooky academics [PS, 18. July 2016: Since writing this I've come to regard Price as kooky, and I still don't actually know Thompson well enough to have a legitimate opinion about whether or not he's kooky. Be that as it may, I'm still not at all convinced that Jesus existed.] who are not at all convinced that Jesus existed -- because while dominant, the view that it's settled is not nearly so unanimous among experts as Keener or Ehrman would have you believe. Typically, Keener doesn't even mention any of their names, but merely claims that are very few such people, and suggests, as have Ehrman and Crossan, to name but the most prominent two, that people who are not sure that Jesus existed are either nuts or have been led astray by nuts. They're avoiding a debate.

But hey, look at all the people who don't care one way or the other, so they say.

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