Saturday, August 26, 2017

Turning and Turning in the Widening Gibberish

The late Professor GA Wells, at the beginning of his paper "The Historicity of Jesus," published in 1986 in the collection Jesus in History and Myth (ed by Hoffmann and Larue), notes that the question of whether or not Jesus existed was hotly debated early in the 20th century, and that those who were less than certain that Jesus existed -- a position now referred to as "mythicism" -- made mistakes in 3 major areas: 1) They over-emphasized similarities between the biography of Jesus and those of pagan gods; 2) they were overly ready to disregard as interpolations any passages in primary materials which were inconvenient to their arguments; and 3) they often badly erred in dating those primary texts. Besides these 3 classes of errors, the tone of the debate was regrettably polemical and lacking in the sober detachment necessary for productive scholarly inquiry of any sort. Because the mythicists argued their case badly, Biblical scholars concluded that it was certain that Jesus had existed.

And it's all happening again in the early 21st century: people who have doubts about Jesus' historicity are making the same kinds of mistakes, and the tone of the debate is usually deplorable, and Biblical scholars -- although, now just as 100 years ago, their tone often isn't any more dignified or productive than anyone else's -- are pointing to the mythicists' poor performance as proving that Jesus actually did exist.

I find it flabbergasting that so many people, including so many highly-trained experts, are (for at least the 2nd time around now) taking the fact that one side of a question is being ineptly arguing as proving the other side. If detectives investigating a crime listen to a raving fool who has one theory of the crime, do they conclude, because the man is a raving fool, that the case has been solved, and that the solution is the opposite of whatever the raving fool said? I certainly hope not. I would hope they would, instead, take a position such as that the statement of the raving fool, by itself, proved little or nothing about the case one way or the other, and continue to investigate.

Except that, carrying the analogy back from police work to New Testament studies, I still maintain that serious investigation of the question by the experts must begin before it can continue. Although the experts maintain that the issue has been thoroughly investigated, I still can't see where that investigation is, or when it was, let alone whatever it is which makes them all so convinced that the investigation is complete.

If you google bollinger paulkovich you will find many references, in news articles, blogs, discussions and what have you, to the particularly, spectacularly inept mythicist Michael Paulkovich, and to 2 of my blog posts about his ineptitude, the Open Letter, my first reaction to hearing that Paulkovich had claimed to have studied the work of 126 ancient authors looking for mentions of Jesus, and 126 Writers, written the next day when I had found the list of those 126 people. Most of these mentions refer to me as "atheist blogger Steven Bollinger," which is an accurate description: I am an atheist and I am a blogger. Occasionally some of these people -- including Paulkovich himself -- refer to me as a Christian, assuming, apparently, that only a Christian could have any criticism of any expressing any doubts that Jesus existed. Quite often, I'm referred to as supporting the historicist position, the position that Jesus certainly existed, which is also erroneous: I'm a mythicist, I'm far from convinced that Jesus existed.

But why should that mean that I think that everything said by everyone else who isn't convinced that Jesus existed is pure flawless genius?

Obviously it means nothing of the sort, unless you're a moron, or not paying attention, or both.

There are a lot of people out there spending a lot of time debating whether or not Jesus existed who are either morons, or not paying a lot of attention to the things they're spending so much time debating, or both. Even those references to me as "atheist blogger Steven Bollinger," although accurate, imply that it's amazing that any atheist would go to the trouble of criticizing a mythicist.

And look, I myself deplore harsh polemical tone, only to indulge in it just a few short paragraphs later. Except that I am not taking that tone in the conventional manner, which would be to use it only against those on the other side of the mythicist/historicist divide -- no, I'm potentially prepared to sneer at almost anyone who says anything at all about Jesus, whether skeptical or credulous. (The late Professor Wells still gets a pass -- for now. And it must be pointed out that he converted from mythicist to historicist, although his historicism remained so minimal that many of his readers and fans never noticed it.) It seems that most of the people debating Jesus's existence are not detached at all: they want the side they're arguing to turn out to be correct. Not so much with actually confronting the evidence with open minds, as if they were -- you know: scholars or something. I would feel great satisfaction if the question were ever definitively resolved one way or the other: I would feel great schadenfreude, directed at either one side, or the other.

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