As I've mentioned before on this blog, Bart Ehrman is wrongto associate people who question whether Jesus existed with people who question the overwhelming consensus of meteorologists when they say that global warming is catastrophic, getting rapidly worse, and caused by humans; or with people who think aliens landed in Roswell in 1947; or even with people stupid enough to doubt that the Holocaust happened. Meteorologists and serious historians and journalists have gotten through with great ease to these people who aren't sure Jesus really existed; with tremendous ease compared to Biblical scholars who seem, the very great majority of them, to be sure that Jesus existed. Perhaps the problem isn't really so much that the doubters are terribly uninformed or resistant to reason, but that the Biblical scholars are, quite simply, unconvincing.
Perhaps even worse: maybe the Biblical scholars aren't even particularly interested, when push comes to shove, in sharing their findings to a broad public in a convincing way. If there is a general lack of a feeling of pedagogical responsibility in this academic field vis-a-vis the general public, an ivory-tower mentality, then it should surprise no one if that general public is more poorly-educated about the background and creation of the Bible than it is about most subjects.
Yesterday, online, I came across someone whose tagline reads "question everything," and who expressed the opinion, which is widely found among New Atheists and people who question Jesus' historical existence, that the Genesis story of Noah and the flood was "obviously directly plagiarized" from the Epic of Gilgamesh.I responded to this person that apparently the assumption that this "plagiarism" had not only occurred but that it was obvious and direct did not appear to be included in the "everything" of the person's tagline. This person hasn't gotten back to me yet. I've been wondering whether the response, if and when it comes, will include the assumption that I am a Christian interested in upholding a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. Such assumptions are quite common when I make such remarks. I'm so often prematurely labeled a Christian by New Atheists that I've been getting quite weary of correcting them on that point. Some friends of mine don't usually bother to make such corrections. Yesterday I thought for a short while about joining them in that respect, when I had a, you will please excuse the faddish expression, come-to-Jesus moment. Why had I bothered to communicate with this person at all? Was it only for the sake of making them look (even) sillier to a small onlooking group of my friends and admirers? Or was I actually trying to make them question whether their assumption about Gilgamesh and Noah might be, not necessarily wrong, but perhaps hasty?
It was the latter. I was actually trying to get through to them and convince them not to believe everything they read at jesusneverexisted.com or -.org, and not to mistrust everything said by an academic Biblical scholar other then the famous (in our circles) few who are skeptical on the Jesus question.
I have a feeling that the mainstream of today's Biblical scholars, who are so annoyed with all of these New Atheists for showing their scholarship so little respect, indeed so little heed whatsoever, have themselves brought about this state of affairs, by the lack of the will to make themselves and their work understood. Let's not forget, the New Atheists, who make the Biblical scholars cringe with their constantly-showing lack of competence in Biblical scholarship, include, indeed to a great extent are led by, Richard Dawkins. Who is about as far from a tinfoil-hat-wearing, global-warming-denying conspiracy theorist as one can be, so much for Bart Ehrman's thesis, with a mention of which I began this essay. Dawkins and many other New Atheists are in fact superbly well informed about global warming, aliens etc. The Biblical scholars are right that the New Atheists, even including Dawkins, are appallingly ignorant about fields of inquiry involving and overlapping with theirs. But how long are they going to stand pat with explanations of this state of affairs such as that the New Atheists are former fundamentalists who still apply fundamentalist preconceptions to the study of the Bible, and smile at the others in their little clique about how ignorant those people are who criticize them, before they actually decide to take responsibility, some responsibility, for the public being so ill-informed about their specialty? In the final analysis, whose fault can this be except the specialists'?
It's certainly easier simply to find fault and shake one's head and tell one another in the clique how learned and misunderstood you are.
Let's take the historicist/mythicist fooferah. 1) If on the one hand the number of specialists in the New Testament who are not strictly historicist is actually higher than the public perceives, whose fault could that mistaken perception possibly be except the specialists'? 2) If on the other hand the firmly-historicist position is so obviously correct to anyone with a basic grasp of the evidence as Ehrman, Crossan, Smith et al have insisted, whose fault can it possibly be that this obviousness has yet to be disseminated among people bright enough that they have no trouble understanding a consensus of meteorologists or evolutionary biologists?
I've been continuing to read the standard works of New Testament scholarship. And over and over I've been reading about how, although it's now agreed that the New Testament can tell us little if anything about what Jesus did or said, it has nevertheless by now been so firmly established that Jesus did exist that mythicism has been relagated to the realm of extremists and cranks, to tinfoil-hat territory -- wait wait, what?! Where was that firmly established? And how exactly? Yes, I missed it too, this convincing evidence they all insist is there. (WHERE?! Why TF can't any of them just point it out to me, or summarize, as the case may be, the dizzyingly-complex process by which clarity was achieved?) Gentle readers, I promise you, as soon as I gain the faintest glimmer of what these people are talking about when they say it's firmly established, if and when I ever have that come-to-Jesus moment, I will let you know.