Saturday, March 23, 2013

There Is A Grave Crisis In New Testament Studies

This is a fine collection of links to information about the New Testament. It may not be the best one there is, but it's the best I know of. It gives you access to a lot of first-rate scholarship.

However, if you surf over there and begin to look around, it may disturb you that the scholars linked there seldom if ever mention that anyone has ever doubted that Jesus existed.

Let me repeat that: it's not just that they all are convinced that Jesus existed: they seem unwilling to acknowledge that anyone has ever doubted it. This is more than a minor problem; it's downright neurotic. And the few exceptions, when mainline New Testament scholars do address the question, they do so neurotically. Well, they do not actually address the question so much as beg it, and they usually seem to verbally abuse anyone who asks it. There have been plenty of books published on the subject, but very very few written by people with tenure in one of the relevant fields. One of these few books, of course, is Bart Ehrman's misleadingly-titled Did Jesus Exist?which is just out in paperback. A title much more indicative of its contents would have been Jesus Definitely Existed And Anyone Who Doubts It Is A Big Poopy-Haid If Not Downright Insane.

I know that I keep harping about the question of the historical Jesus in this blog, and complaining about the way that academics duck the question. But that is only half of the crisis I'm alluding to. The other half is that many, many other people are also disappointed in these scholars' response, and/or lack of response, to this question, and many of them have concluded that these scholars are not to be trusted about anything.

Which is incorrect. When it comes to just about any topic having to do with Christianity from around AD 50 to the present, the academics are the go-to guys and gals. But large numbers of people, large and quickly-growing, I am afraid, are being turned off by the scholars' poor performance, and/or refusal to perform at all, on that one question: did Jesus? exist? -- they behave completely differently, these very same professors, when you ask about other people. They'll tell you that the stories of Abraham are legends and that there's no more reason to think of him as real as there would be with Zeus. With few exceptions, they'll tell you much the same about Moses. Most of them believe there was a David, but they'll be perfectly glad to tell you why, and they won't imply that you're a simpleton or a lunatic for asking. Totally different deal with Jesus -- and so they are turning to non-scholars for answers. And what they're getting from the non-scholars is at best a summary of some of the finest scholarship of the 19th century, and usually they're getting books much worse than that best. People who would never think of shunning the academic community when it comes to climatology, or evolution, or extra-terrestrial life, are shunning Biblical scholars, not just when it comes to whether or not Jesus existed, where it's perfectly reasonable to shun them, but also on the history, not just of Christianity, but also of Judaism, and to a large extent, ancient history in general.

Even professors in some of those other fields, even world-class professors like Dawkins, are getting a Bizarro-World, History-Channel-worthy education in ancient history. Believe me, general public: you need to overlook the one question about Jesus and realize that otherwise, these people actually are the experts. I stand by my opinion of Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? but his books which contain footnotes are the good stuff. As is the stuff referred to in those footnotes. I'm talking about Epp and Speyer and Rice and Holmes and Koester and Pagels and co. I'm talking about peer-reviewed stuff by people highly fluent in the relevant ancient languages and highly-skilled in the relevant methods. It's a weird situation. The historical-Jesus question is a huge elephant standing and pooping in their faculty lounge and they're just not dealing with it, and that's very bad -- but otherwise they perfectly resemble competent scholars.

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