Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In The Feud Between Historicists And Mythicists, There's Almost No One To Root For

And it is a feud. One of the disappointing things about this is the high proportion of personal attacks against other scholars to actual scholarly discussion of Jesus' historicity. As I've mentioned before on this blog, Bart Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? disappoints not only for the weakness of the case it makes for historicity -- others of Ehrman's fans on both side of the historicist/mythicist divide agree that the case he made was very disappointingly weak -- but also for the egregiously insulting personal attacks on mythicists, comparing them to conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers. As if that weren't bad enough, the mythicists whom Ehrman attacked -- Richard Carrier, D.M. Murdock, Earl Doherty, René Salm, David Fitzgerald, Frank R. Zindler, and Robert M. Price -- have responded, not with something finer, but in kind, with an anthology of attacks on Ehrman, entitled Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth, in which they allow themselves in no way to be outdone by Ehrman when it comes to petty gotchas. Ad hominem all over the place, no ad rem to be seen anywhere.

Unless, of course, I'm entirely mistaken in thinking that the actual res here is the question: did Jesus exist? Price, who edited this volume along with Zindler, actually writes of Ehrman and Did Jesus Exist? : "He started it!" I suppose it's possible to find Price refreshingly informal and witty in a childlike way. I suppose. Some people must find him to be that way. Because he does have readers and fans.

On the one hand, mainstream academic scholars have thorough training, great familiarity with relevant languages ancient and modern (a great deal of the standard work in the Biblical scholarship of the past several centuries has been in German) and peer review, but they also almost all seem to have the a priori assumption that Jesus existed, a compulsion to ridicule anyone who doesn't share that assumption, and a much too cozy relationship with theologians. And who can say to what extent the assumption, or the appearance of the assumption if that's really all it is in some cases, is merely a subset of the cozy relationship? On the other hand there are mythicists who have none of the above. And in the middle, with all of those good scholarly attributes but without that a priori assumption, are Price, and G A Wells, who's over 90 years old. And perhaps Carrier. Some say that Carrier exaggerates his credentials and some other details of his bio. Are they right? How the Hell should I know? If this blog post makes only one thing clear to you, it should be that I don't know whom to trust in Jeebus Studies, inside or outside of academia. And there's R Joseph Hoffmann, whose academic credentials are not in doubt, but who seems to have come to assume that Jesus existed. He comes short of calling it a certainty, as most of his colleagues in academia do, but not by much at all anymore. He says that the path which led him so very close to the orthodox certainty is clear and brightly-lit and plain for all to see. But I still can't see it. I must be thick. Yeah, that must be it.

To whom does one turn, between this rock and that hard place? Not to me: my Quixotic quest has to do with the lost books of Livy -- which definitely did exist at one point. In this matter of Jesus I am merely an appalled onlooker.

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